September 1, 2021
By Congresswoman Nanette Barragán and Jackie Ostfeld
This blog was originally posted on SierraClub.org. Featured photo courtesy of the National Park Service.
Summer and the outdoors go hand-in-hand, and nowhere is that felt more than in our parks. From hikes through ancient forests to weekend cookouts with friends to soccer or Little League games, our parks are where so many summer activities turn into treasured memories.
Our parks have been an especially important outlet this summer, as we continue to take on the COVID-19 pandemic. Months of staying at home to slow the spread of the virus made it clear just how essential spending time outdoors is for our mental and physical health. In fact, studies show that spending as little as 20 minutes a day outdoors can have significant positive effects on health and wellbeing, improve mood and attention, lower stress levels, and even reduce the risk of psychiatric disorders.
Unfortunately, about 100 million Americans, including about 28 million children, do not live within a 10-minute walk of a quality neighborhood park.
The disparity in access to the outdoors is particularly felt by lower-income communities and communities of color. White neighborhoods are three times more likely to have access to nearby nature than communities of color, and the parks and green spaces in wealthier neighborhoods are likely to be larger than the parks and green spaces in less-affluent communities.
With demand for parks and open spaces at an all-time high, it is long past time to address these historic inequities and make the benefits of the outdoors available to all.
For example, a survey done by the Los Angeles County Department of Parks and Recreation found the average amount of parkland in the county is 3.3 acres per 1,000 residents. But there are great discrepancies in access to these green spaces based on where people live.
L.A. County’s city of Compton has only 0.6 acres of parkland per 1,000 residents. In contrast, the city of Malibu, also in L.A. County but with three times the median household income of Compton, has 55.5 acres of parkland per 1,000 residents.
With demand for parks and open spaces at an all-time high, it is long past time to address these historic inequities and make the benefits of the outdoors available to all. One way we can do that is passing the Parks, Jobs, and Equity Act as part of President Biden’s Build Back Better Agenda. It would provide $500 million in funding for local parks in the neighborhoods and communities that have been denied access to green spaces.
Passing the Parks, Jobs, and Equity Act would have immediate and wide-ranging benefits. By funding the creation of new parks and the expansion of existing green spaces in urban neighborhoods, the legislation would make it easier for low-income communities and communities of color to experience the mental and physical health benefits of access to nearby nature. Finding an outdoor space could become as easy as walking down the block.
The funding invested in local parks through the Parks, Jobs, and Equity Act would also help local economies that have been negatively affected by the pandemic. Local parks support 1.1 million jobs in the United States and generate more than $166 billion in economic activity. The Parks, Jobs, and Equity Act would protect 100,000 seasonal jobs currently threatened by pandemic-related budget cuts, while also creating more than 8,000 new positions. Using those resources to renovate more than 500 outdoor sites would also generate $1.37 billion in economic activity.
Finally, supercharging funding to local parks can build up the critical green infrastructure we need to take on the climate crisis. Green spaces parks absorb carbon and help clean up the air. They also mitigate the impacts of climate change such as flooding, and they’re critical to protecting vulnerable populations from the “urban heat island effect.” This is important because neighborhoods without sufficient tree coverage can be 10 to15 degrees hotter than greener neighborhoods just minutes away.
The pandemic has made it clear how much we need the outdoors. We have a critical opportunity to jumpstart our economy while increasing access to nature and fighting climate change. The Parks, Jobs, and Equity Act can help us do it.
About the authors:
Nanette Diaz Barragán is proud to represent California’s 44th Congressional District, which is based in southern Los Angeles County. In 2019, she became the first Latina in 10 years to hold a seat on the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, serving on the Energy, Environment & Climate Change, and Health subcommittees.
Jackie Ostfeld is the Director of the Sierra Club’s Outdoors For All campaign, and Founder and Chair of the Outdoors Alliance for Kids.