Report: Parks vs. Polarization, Loneliness

Parks are catalysts for building community, social connectedness and civic action according to a new report titled “The Common Ground Framework” from the Trust for Public Land (TPL). Debunking the misconception of parks as luxury amenities, the research positions greenspace as both critical social infrastructure and an effective tool for building a stronger sense of community.

“The Common Ground Framework” provides a visionary blueprint that empowers elected officials, park practitioners and community advocates to reimagine the potential of their local parks and green spaces. By adopting this framework, communities can transform their parks into inclusive and vibrant social hubs, fostering social connection, bridging divides and promoting civic engagement.

“Parks have the potential to bring our country together at times when so many forces pull us apart,” said Cary Simmons, TPL’s director of community strategies. “Our communities across the country are facing alarming levels of polarization, social isolation and loneliness, but our report highlights greenspace solutions that work. By leveraging parks as social infrastructure, we can create beautiful outdoor spaces that bring people together, spark dialogue and empower residents to get more involved in their communities.”

Following the release of “The Common Ground Framework,” TPL is launching a new pilot program with support from the Walmart Foundation in eight cities: Fayetteville, Ark.; Greeley, Colo.; Des Moines, Iowa; Lexington, Ky.; Baton Rouge, La.; Raleigh, N.C.; Buffalo, N.Y.; and Cleveland, Ohio. These cities will have the opportunity to revitalize their local parks, strengthen community bonds and empower residents to shape their local public spaces.

Evidence has shown that parks function as shared spaces for people of diverse backgrounds and beliefs to come together to help mend the social divides and isolation that challenges our nation. TPL’s “On Common Ground” initiative is a broad and ambitious research and advocacy strategy that aims to leverage America’s city parks for their capacity to mitigate the impacts of polarization, social isolation and discrimination.

TPL is pursuing its advocacy and implementation together with key partners. One such partner is the national nonprofit Welcoming America, whose mission is to support communities building a welcoming society where all people, including immigrants, can fully contribute and shape our shared prosperity.

“Welcoming America is proud to partner with the Trust for Public Land to ensure that our public spaces reflect the racial and ethnic diversity of our communities and create the conditions for all of us to come together as neighbors. When we design our public spaces to be welcoming for everyone—including people with immigrant backgrounds—we create the foundation for healthy communities and a healthy democracy. We look forward to working with TPL on implementing the paper’s findings so that parks and green spaces can continue fostering a sense of belonging for all,” said Rachel Perić, executive director at Welcoming America. “When we invest in the development and upkeep of these spaces, we are investing in the social unity, well-being and overall quality of life in our communities. Let’s embrace the transformative influence of parks and green spaces as we work towards a more connected and harmonious society.”

Key findings and recommendations from “The Common Ground Framework” include:

Parks are ideal settings for social connection:

  • Green spaces serve as inclusive gathering places, fostering a sense of belonging among community members.
  • Engaging the community in green space planning strengthens social ties and promotes collaborative decision-making.
  • Community-led activities in green spaces facilitate connections and shared experiences among residents.

Parks can help communities bridge divides:

  • Green spaces act as neutral ground, bringing together individuals from diverse backgrounds and across social divides.
  • Community engagement in green space development encourages cooperation and inclusivity.
  • Parks that reflect the identities of diverse user groups, incorporating murals and other cultural elements, promote unity and understanding across lines of difference.

Park engagement is civic engagement:

  • Green spaces provide platforms for civic participation and community voice.
  • Community engagement in green space initiatives enhances residents’ sense of ownership and empowerment.
  • Parks serve as vibrant hubs for community events, workshops and education, fostering dialogue and civic skill development.

For more information on “The Common Ground Framework” and TPL’s initiatives, visit