PI will partner with the University of Utah to develop a new initiative, Building Momentum for Park and Green Space Equity in Small and Midsize Cities, with funding from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation
Prevention Institute is pleased to announce we will be planning a new national initiative, Building Momentum for Park and Green Space Equity in Small and Midsize Cities, in partnership with the University of Utah. The initiative is funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF).
“We’re honored to have been selected to lead this planning effort. Park equity advocacy has been steadily gaining momentum,” said Manal J. Aboelata, deputy executive director at Prevention Institute and co-project director. “RWJF’s investment comes at a critical moment and will accelerate national progress on health equity, climate adaptation, and environmental equity by supporting the next generation of park equity advocacy efforts in small and midsize cities across the country.”
During an eight-month planning period, Prevention Institute will co-design a multi-year funding program focused on policy and systems changes to increase equitable access to parks and green spaces in low-income communities of color in urban areas across the United States. Dr. Alessandro Rigolon, assistant professor in the Department of City & Metropolitan Planning at the University of Utah, will serve as a research partner on this groundbreaking effort.
Park equity—fair and just access to parks and green spaces—is key to advancing a culture of health and has been a core focus of Prevention Institute’s work for over two decades. Urban parks and green spaces are essential community infrastructure that protect health by providing people of all ages and abilities opportunities for physical activity, time in nature, social connection, and respite. Parks also cleanse air, remove pollution, cool temperatures, and filter stormwater. But extensive evidence documents inequities by race, place, and income in parks, recreational facilities, and green spaces across the US—as well deficits in programming, amenities, staffing, and upkeep. Black and Brown neighborhoods experience the greatest inequities.
“We have a unique opportunity to make long-overdue gains in health equity and racial justice, using parks and green spaces as a lever for change,” said Dr. Rigolon. “We’re eager to work with RWJF and Prevention Institute to co-design a grantmaking framework that takes into consideration associations between park development and gentrification and emphasizes strategic approaches that support community stability as new parks and green spaces are developed.”
“Decades of disinvestment fueled by structural inequities are at the heart of the unfair distribution of park space, disparities in the quality of recreational facilities, and unbalanced levels of programming,” said Elva Yañez, Prevention Institute’s director of health equity and co-project director for the planning grant. “Ultimately, this initiative will support communities most impacted by park inequities to advance health, equity, and justice by addressing the policies and practices that led to these inequities in the first place.”
Prevention Institute’s recent park equity research, carried out in partnership with the Urban Institute, the University of California-Los Angeles, and seven community-based organizations, and funded by RWJF, found that closing gaps in access to parks and green space has the potential to boost life expectancy in “park-poor” communities in Los Angeles County by up to 164,700 years, across the population. A companion toolkit supports community-based organizations that are building power to secure equitable investments in park infrastructure in disinvested communities.
Strategies for achieving park equity include increasing public funds invested in health-promoting park infrastructure in high-need communities; building capacity in government and community-based organizations for broad, inclusive community engagement in park planning and policymaking; and sharing innovative approaches and best practices to drive policy change.
A key element of the planning process for Building Momentum for Park and Green Space Equity will be to take action to address park inequities and advance racial justice in the context of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and its economic toll on municipal budgets. The COVID-19 pandemic has underscored the essential role of parks in providing safe spaces for outdoor recreation and as hubs for emergency services at the same time the economic fallout from the pandemic has hollowed out municipal budgets, including funds available for parks and recreation.
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Prevention Institute is a national nonprofit with offices in Oakland, Los Angeles, Houston, and Washington, D.C. Its mission is to build prevention and health equity into key policies and actions at the federal, state, local, and organizational level to ensure that the places where all people live, work, play, and learn foster health, safety, and wellbeing.
Dr. Alessandro Rigolon, assistant professor, Department of City & Metropolitan Planning, University of Utah, has published over 20 peer-reviewed articles on green space equity and a book that links green space to health. His work has appeared in the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, and NPR. The University of Utah, located in Salt Lake City, is the flagship institution of higher learning in Utah.
The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation is the largest philanthropy in the United States dedicated solely to improving health.
Support for this project is provided by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect the views of the foundation.
CONTACT: Rachel Bennett, RachelB@preventioninstitute.org.