The Last Word - March 2021
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Equity, Funding, Community & More: The City Parks Alliance

By Emily Tipping


Established in 2000, the City Parks Alliance is an independent, nationwide membership organization dedicated entirely to urban parks. Its mission? To "engage, educate and nurture a broad-based constituency to support the creation, revitalization and sustainability of parks and green spaces that contribute to more vibrant and equitable cities," according to the organization's website.

City Parks Alliance brings together a network of civic and community leaders, government agencies, parks and rec professionals, funders and others. Its work is driven by six values:

  • Equitable Access: "We believe that everyone living in urban areas should have equal access to quality parks that provide diverse, affordable recreation opportunities in clean, safe and healthy environments."
  • Equitable Funding: "We believe that park and recreation budgets can be used more strategically to address racial and economic equity."
  • Workforce Equity: "We support implementing hiring policies, building cultural competency and nurturing leadership that results in a workforce of park and recreation field staff reflective of the diverse communities they serve with upward mobility for all."
  • Community Participation: "We believe local voices—through public partnerships with community-based organizations—are essential to creating vibrant places and recreational services." (If you want to learn more about forming such partnerships, turn back to the feature story on page 12, which includes an interview with City Parks Alliance Executive Director Catherine Nagel.)
  • Evaluation Standards: "We strive to support park and recreation service delivery with an equity lens by sharing standards and assessment tools for data collection and measurement to help prioritize investment in underserved communities and to measure racial diversity within organizations that serve those communities, including City Parks Alliance."
  • Equitable Urban Systems: "We work to show the value of park and recreation places and programs in addressing cities' broader equity challenges with other community development issues, such as affordable housing, environmental justice and resiliency, youth development, incarceration reduction, food security and transportation options."

City Parks Alliance got its start in 2000, led by a group of urban park administrators and advocates from across the country. Early workshops for the Alliance focused on partnerships, advocacy and recreation. Over the past two decades, the organization has gradually expanded its work, adding in-person and virtual learning events, establishing research partnerships and much more. It expanded its federal advocacy work with its first "Day on the Hill" in Washington, D.C., in 2009, and participated in the White House Conference on America's Great Outdoors in 2010.

Events hosted by City Parks Alliance provide networking and learning opportunities for parks and rec professionals and others working with city parks. It's next in-person conference, Greater & Greener 2022: An International Urban Parks Conference, will be held in Philadelphia in the summer of 2022. In the meantime, the organization has been hosting a variety of virtual events and learning opportunities, including webinars, and this summer, the City Parks Alliance Summer Series—two weeks of interactive programs and conversations on issues facing cities and city parks.

"Conversations will focus on how cities are reckoning with racial justice, building an inclusive workforce, driving an equitable economic recovery, and leveraging parks and public spaces to connect people and create stronger, more resilient communities."

In support of its equity goals, in the Fall of 2020, the City Parks Alliance launched its Equitable Park Funding Hub, a tool for exploring federal, state and local funding strategies for city parks and public spaces. The hub provides an overview of six funding areas: brownfields; climate resilience; community development; conservation funding; local funding; and stormwater management.

"City parks, trails and access to nature support public health, workforce development, local economies, the environment and community cohesion," said Nagel in a press release announcing the initiative. "Yet historic disinvestment has left many low-income communities and communities of color without access to quality parks and recreation opportunities. The coronavirus pandemic shines a spotlight on park inequities and will leave many cities in dire financial shape. Cities need to include parks and recreation in their recovery plans with a broader equity focus. Now more than ever, high-quality parks and public spaces in disadvantaged communities require creative partnerships to unlock new and existing funding sources."

The Equitable Park Funding Hub is just the tip of the iceberg, in terms of useful resources put together by the alliance. The website highlights grant opportunities, research, a library of resources, a job bank and more. RM