People, Parks, and Power (P3) comes at a critical moment. The COVID-19 pandemic has led to a greater appreciation of parks as essential infrastructure. Our nation’s reckoning with racial injustice has increased public awareness of how structural racism has shaped—and continues to shape—inequitable community environments and related health outcomes.

Even though there is broad consensus on the value of parks and green infrastructure, evidence shows that there are persistent inequities in access, availability, quality of facilities, and programming by race, place, and income. The People, Parks, and Power (P3) initiative is grounded in the premise that urban parks are essential community infrastructure that should serve every neighborhood in a fair, just, and safe manner, without displacing longtime residents or community-serving businesses.

Change comes from organizing and power-building; in that regard P3 breaks new ground. It’s the first national funding initiative that supports community-based organizations to build power for local policy change to eliminate the deplorable park and green space inequities found in urban African American and Latino communities across the U.S. This new investment recognizes just how crucial low-income communities of color are to moving the needle toward equity on issues central to environmental, health, and racial justice. P3 holds the promise of expanding the bench of local leaders and innovators working for park and green space equity and jumpstarting a new movement.

–Manuel Pastor, PhD, director of the University of Southern California’s Equity Research Institute and a grantee of RWJF’s Lead Local initiative.

The traditional approach to addressing park inequities has focused on building new parks, recreation facilities, and green infrastructure projects in communities, or on improving existing infrastructure. While “on-the-ground” project development is crucial, a sole focus on projects will not reverse park inequities or achieve large-scale impacts across the population. Park inequities will persist, worsen, or take on new forms until the policies, institutional practices, power dynamics, and problematic narratives that produced these inequities in the first place are transformed.

Recognizing that people and power drive policy and systems change, P3 will support community-driven solutions to advance park equity, health equity, and racial justice. Employing strategies drawn from public health successes and generations of people of color–led movements, P3 seeks to transform the field at this unprecedented moment and apply best practices to address longstanding park inequities in urban environments.

To learn more:

*Photo credit: Office of Los Angeles County Supervisor Hilda Solis