New Policy Framework Addresses Park Equity Divide

Parks are an essential tool in addressing some of the most current pressing social challenges of the day, including mental and physical health, climate change, economic growth and more. However, with one in three U.S. residents—100 million people—lacking access to a park within a 10-minute walk of home, city leaders are looking for effective ways to expand access to parks and greenspaces. A new report from the Trust for Public Land and College of Charleston offers a policy framework that aims to help address the park equity divide.

There is a need for new tools and strategies to meet the scale and urgency of this nation’s park equity divide. Local policy is one focus of Trust for Public Land’s 10-Minute Walk Program in working with cities and communities to create sustainable change and address this divide. Currently, there is limited information about what policies and mechanisms contribute to equitable access to parks and greenspaces. 

Trust for Public Land and College of Charleston’s new report, “Key Park Equity Policies: Toward a 10-Minute Walk Park Equity Policy Framework,” begins to fill this information gap. The report is an initial, foundational step toward supporting city leaders and closing the park equity gap through policy change. 

“These inequities in park and greenspace access are in part the result of a long history of inequitable policy decisions that supported disinvestment of neighborhoods based largely on the racial makeup of residents,” said Bianca Shulaker, parks initiative lead and 10-Minute Walk Program senior director at Trust for Public Land. “Policy change, and centering community in this work, is an important step in reversing historical trends. This report, and our wider policy work, aim to help city leaders prioritize and invest in parks in ways that will close the park equity divide.”

“We’re partnering to provide the field with a more comprehensive view of common trends, innovative practices, and where deepened investment in local policy change is needed to close park equity gaps,” said project partner Dr. Morgan Hughey, associate professor, Department of Health and Human Performance; faculty fellow, Joseph P. Riley, Jr. Center for Livable Communities. “This initial report will serve as our framework to track the state of the field, as a resource about policies aimed at increasing park access, and to inspire and support local advocacy efforts.”

Currently, the research team is applying the framework to a diverse sample of 25 cities across the U.S. Through interviews with local government leaders and administrators in those cities, the research team is gaining context, insight and expertise on the formulation, adoption and execution of park policies. Findings from this research will be used to inform a “state of the field” of park equity policy report, which will document the current extent to which cities are utilizing policy to improve park access, and will identify ways the field can better leverage the full range of policy approaches that can meaningfully advance park access in local communities. The research team will share findings in fall 2024, with an aim to encourage and facilitate strategic and widespread adoption of policies to improve equitable park access by local leaders.

To learn more, read the report here.