New Report Documents Equitable Funding Strategies for Urban Parks and Green Space with a Focus on Lower Income Communities

New Report Documents Equitable Funding Strategies for Urban Parks and Green Space with a Focus on Lower Income Communities

New Report Documents Equitable Funding Strategies for Urban Parks and Green Space with a Focus on Lower Income Communities

Cities are leveraging new sources of funding, reallocating existing resources and recognizing the multiple benefits of parks to forge new funding partnerships

Media Contact: Tom McCann

Washington, DC – City Parks Alliance commissioned Investing in Equitable Urban Park Systems: Emerging Strategies and Tools as part of a national initiative to help cities address park-equity and promote innovative strategies for funding parks and green infrastructure. Urban Institute led the research and published the report, which explores twenty funding models and their equity considerations in cities of various sizes across the country. Beyond new sources of funding, the research turned up a number of strategies that are using an equity lens to shape funding decisions. This work is made possible with support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

“City parks are at the center of resilient and equitable cities. These green spaces are used for recreation, respite, and community cohesion and also offer important infrastructure benefits,” said Catherine Nagel, executive director for City Parks Alliance. “Growing urban populations and resilience to environmental challenges are some of the issues straining already tight municipal budgets. Our research shows some of the ways cities can leverage the equity, health, and environmental benefits of parks to identify new sources of funding, new cost-sharing partnerships, and new support for parks.”

Public funding for parks and green infrastructure — especially in low-income communities where their many benefits are often most needed — is often limited, leaving many residents without access to quality parks, recreational opportunities, and other positive environmental conditions. And low-income communities that do receive park and green space investments often have to balance these benefits against the threat of displacement for long-time residents and businesses. Community involvement and transparent decision making is essential, and programs to support long-time residents and businesses can help reduce green gentrification.

“Our research confirmed that park leaders and their allies in government and communities are already having conversations about how different park investments and funding decisions either address or exacerbate park equity gaps,” said Matthew Eldridge lead researcher with Urban Institute. “Places are thinking of funding in terms of where it’s coming from, what it’s being used for, how it’s being distributed, and what impacts it’s having on communities. In many cities, and especially in ones with limited resources, addressing the park equity gap from a funding perspective requires creative thinking about the roles of parks, engagement of communities in planning and decision making, and the leveraging of new data and partnerships.”

Three equitable funding examples:

  1. New sources of funding: Philanthropies are both increasingly supporting the development of parks (e.g. the Gathering Place in Tulsa, Oklahoma funded by the George Kaiser Family Foundation) and driving conversations on equity (e.g., the William Penn Foundation’s work in Philadelphia to advance equity in the allocation of resources and understand the impacts of those investments on residents in that city).
  2. Reallocation of funding: Proposition K in Los Angeles created a citywide property tax assessment district that generates funding for youth infrastructure (including parks and recreation facilities) and aims to help address inequities in access to these services.
  3. New partnerships leveraging the benefits of parks: The Red Rock Trail System in Greater Birmingham, Alabama, leveraged funds from the Jefferson County Department of Health, federal transportation grants, and community resources to build a 100-mile trail network connecting high- and low-income communities to jobs, recreational opportunities, and each other.

Report authors and advisory board members will be sharing additional insights with park leaders at Greater & Greener 2019: Exploring Natural Connections in Denver, CO, July 20-24. Greater & Greener brings together more than 1,000 leaders from parks and recreation, public works, transportation, city planning, and other municipal agencies, mayors, advocacy and funding organizations, community leaders, designers and landscape architects, real estate developers, and other stakeholders involved in city building. The highly curated sessions, workshops, and tours facilitate an honest dialogue around solutions, cross-sector and peer-to-peer networking, and tools for building successful park partnerships.

“All funding models have equity implications; some are designed to address these issues head-on and others may unintentionally magnify inequities,” continued Nagel. “This research is intended to help cities avoid unintended consequences by learning from other cities and park systems and identify new potential partnerships for creating, maintaining, and programming parks.”

In addition to commissioning the work by the Urban Institute, City Parks Alliance has partnered with Groundwork USA to identify community pre-conditions for pursuing park and green infrastructure funding strategies successfully and ensuring real ownership and health equity gains for long-term residents. This second phase of the research and knowledge-sharing will continue through spring of 2020 with additional products including a review of park equity frameworks from several major park systems and a practical guide on how local conditions shape and inform funding and park equity, released as completed.

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City Parks Alliance is the only independent, nationwide membership organization solely dedicated to urban parks. Its mission is to engage, educate and nurture a broad-based constituency to support the creation, revitalization, and sustainability of parks and green spaces that contribute to dynamic cities. City Parks Alliance unites and serves a growing network of hundreds of civic and community leaders, government agencies, parks and recreation authorities, funders and others. 

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