Recreation Management Rec Report - The Newsletter for Recreation, Sports & Fitness Facility Managers

Feature Story

September 2019

City Parks Alliance on Park Funding & Equity

By Dave Ramont

City Parks Alliance has a 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 dynamic cities.” They’re the only independent, nationwide membership organization solely dedicated to urban parks.

Recently, in an effort to assist cities with addressing park equity and implementing innovative strategies when it comes to funding for parks and green infrastructure, the City Parks Alliance commissioned a report titled “Investing in Equitable Urban Park Systems: Emerging Strategies and Tools.” The report looks at 20 funding models and their equity considerations in cities of various sizes across the United States. The research revealed new sources of funding, as well as strategies that are shaping funding decisions through an equity lens.

City parks are at the center of resilient and equitable cities, according to Catherine Nagel, executive director for City Parks Alliance. She said that these green spaces offer important infrastructure benefits, as well as being utilized for recreation, respite and community cohesion. “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.”

Many city residents—especially in low-income communities where the benefits of green spaces are particularly beneficial—are without access to quality parks and the recreational opportunities they provide. This is often due to limited funding for parks and green infrastructure. Additionally, low-income communities that might receive park investments often face the threat of displacement for businesses or long-time residents. But “green gentrification” can be reduced by programs that support businesses and long-time residents.

Urban Institute led the research and published the report, which was made possible with support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Matthew Eldridge is lead researcher with Urban Institute, and he said the 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. “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.”

“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,” said Nagel.

City Parks Alliance has also partnered with Groundwork USA for a second phase of research, which will continue through the spring of 2020. This will include 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.

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