December 9, 2020
President-elect Joseph Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris
Presidential Transition Office
Request: $500 million for our nation’s city parks to help during the current global pandemic.
Dear President-elect Joseph Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris:
We are the Co-chairs of the bipartisan Mayors for Parks Coalition, an initiative of City Parks Alliance. The Coalition includes mayors from large and small cities across the country and advocates for strong federal investment in our nation’s city parks. We congratulate you on your election and look forward to working with you these next four years.
The Mayors for Parks Coalition is asking Congress and your new administration to support a one-time historic investment of $500 million for our nation’s city parks to help during the current global pandemic. While we understand you have not yet taken office, we wanted to ensure you and your team are aware of this request as Congress continues to debate FY21 appropriations, COVID stimulus/relief response options, and other supplemental spending and authorizing packages related to highways and infrastructure.
During the coronavirus pandemic, our cities have experienced a renewed and deeper understanding of the important role parks and greenspace play in our physical and mental health, as well as our economy. Yet across the country, we have seen park and greenspace related budgets slashed and parks departments severely understaffed. The coronavirus has shined a light on numerous equity issues in our cities, including the condition of our nation’s city park infrastructure. Years of neglect and disinvestment have left many parks in need of significant improvements and consequently low-income communities and communities of color without easy access to quality parks and recreational opportunities. We need a significant increase in federal support for city parks if we are going to reverse this trend and keep pace with growing demands. As a U.S. Senator, Vice President-elect Harris you were the lead sponsor of the Outdoors for All Act (S. 1458), legislation that would provide permanent annual funding for urban parks in underserved communities.
In Denver, like many other cities, park usage has increased dramatically during the pandemic, providing much needed relief from indoor confinement for families working and learning at home and opportunities to engage socially in safe outdoor spaces. Despite the cancellation of organized sports on public lands, we were forced to close park roads in order to expand available park space to meet rising demand – an estimated 25% to 30% increase in park usage – during the pandemic. And in Fort Worth, parks and trails saw more traffic this year than ever before with young professionals accounting for nearly 26% of all trail usage up from 15% the year prior.
Federal dollars are also critical to leveraging additional public and private funds. The South Platte River in Denver received $1.2 million in federal grants, which in turn galvanized more than $2.5 billion in local public and private funding, an investment that has revitalized Denver’s downtown and continues to drive economic development and job creation.
Congress can act swiftly to start to address this urgent need for more quality urban parks by making a one-time $500 million investment in the Outdoor Recreation Legacy Partnership Program (ORLP). The ORLP provides grants for park development and acquisition projects that expand outdoor recreation opportunities in urban communities lacking sufficient close-to-home parks. The program, which requires a local match, engages public-private partnerships, creates jobs, and helps to stimulate local economic development. Past projects have included improving accessibility of playgrounds, creating parks on former brownfield sites and industrial lands, and developing dual-use spaces for recreation and green infrastructure storm water management that builds resilient communities.
Our nation’s mayors know that parks are critical to maintaining and improving the physical and mental health of all Americans. Parks provide an important resource to help reduce obesity, and its associated public health costs. And parks provide wide ranging environmental benefits including keeping our urban waters clean and removing air pollution which has been linked to asthma in children. The United States Conference of Mayors adopted an urban park resolution that emphasizes the importance of parks as essential elements in a comprehensive approach to urban policy and community development. We share the commitment of that resolution.
We know your administration will have many priorities. We also know that these priorities are linked by a simple but powerful belief in improving the lives of Americans. We believe ensuring everyone has access to quality parks and greenspaces is one of the simplest and most profound ways to provide the mental and physical health benefits we all need for a better quality of life.
We look forward to working with you to provide significant increases in park funding to our urban communities. Please do not hesitate to contact us if you or your administration have further questions.
Thank you for your kind attention.
Mayor Michael B. Hancock (D) Mayor Betsy Price (R)
Denver, CO Fort Worth, TX