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This Week in PubHub: Environment: Green Access

April 29, 2011

(Kyoko Uchida manages PubHub, the Foundation Center's online catalog of foundation-sponsored publications. In her previous post, she looked at reports that highlight the need to protect and invest in the environmental, economic, and cultural benefits of the planet's water and marine resources.)

While the environmental benefits of green spaces are obvious, the issue of equitable green access -- access to parks and open spaces where children can play and communities can thrive -- lies at the intersection of environmental, health, community development, and social justice concerns. This week in PubHub we're featuring four reports that examine how access to green space is inequitably distributed and what it means for racial and economic justice.

City Project has been mapping the distribution of parks and green spaces across Southern California, overlaid with demographic, economic, and historical data, in order to analyze green access by race/ethnicity and poverty rates. Healthy Parks, Schools and Communities: Green Access and Equity in Orange County (24 pages, PDF) finds that disparities in children's fitness, obesity rates, and safe parks are directly linked to race/ethnicity and household income. The report found that a disproportionate percentage of children of color live in areas of concentrated poverty in the northern part of the county, where their access to parks or school fields for play or public transportation connected to open spaces and beaches farther south is limited, and therefore are more likely not to meet physical fitness standards. Areas with the least access to parks and open spaces also have the highest child obesity rates. The implications of such disparities extend far beyond physical health, the report's authors argue, in that physical fitness is also linked to academic performance. The report was funded by the California Endowment, Kaiser Permanente, and the John Randolph Haynes and Dora Haynes, Kresge, Marguerite Casey, Rosalinde and Arthur Gilbert, Rouben and Violet Jiji, San Diego, Union Bank of California, Whole Systems, and William C. Kenney Watershed Protection foundations.

City Project also found that while San Diego County is 45 percent green space, areas of the county with the highest concentrations of low-income households and people of color are "park-poor" and have the highest child obesity rates. Not only would better access to parks and open spaces provide these communities with environmental, health, and economic benefits, the authors argue, it would also also give the residents of those communities healthier venues in which to celebrate their diverse cultural heritages and foster community pride. Funded by the San Diego Foundation, the Fletcher Family Fund, the Hattie Ettinger Conservation Fund, and REI, Healthy Parks, Schools and Communities: Green Access and Equity for the San Diego Region (46 pages, PDF) suggests a number of ways to ensure more equitable green access in the county, including prioritizing green space projects in low-income areas; developing better public transit to green spaces; implementing joint-use projects that facilitate the public's recreational use of parks, school facilities, and pools; and expanding the Conservation Corps and youth job programs.

Social justice is a central theme in grassroots efforts to secure green access in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Baldwin Hills, which is threatened by expanded oil drilling, a new report from Concerned Citizens of South Central Los Angeles and City Project argues. The report, Keep Baldwin Hills Clean and Green for Generations to Come (56 pages, PDF), notes that the neighborhood is one of the most park-poor areas in California -- due in part to a history of discriminatory land use and economic policies and practices -- and as a result has disproportionately suffered the environmental burdens of local oil field operations. Funded by the California Endowment, the Impact Fund, Kaiser Permanente, and the James Irvine, Kresge, Liberty Hill, and Rosalinde and Arthur Gilbert foundations, the report lays out the community's vision for converting the oil field into a 1,200-acre park.

Farther north, a public-private partnership in San Francisco has succeeded in offering residents more recreational space and access by upgrading the city's athletic fields and streamlining its field permit system. In Giving Every Child a Place to Play Ball: A Partnership to Revitalize San Francisco's Athletic Fields (24 pages, PDF), the City Fields Foundation describes its efforts to renovate run-down fields, install lights for night play and practices, and reform the permit system for easier and more equitable field access. The report also details a number of challenges, including concerns about the use of synthetic turf, the vagaries of city politics, and the difficulty of engaging local residents who are more focused on crime and safety concerns than park stewardship.

What are your thoughts about disparities in green access and/or how the disparities relate to social and economc justice? Are you involved in or do you know of any philanthropy-supported projects designed to enhance access to safe parks and open spaces? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section.

And dont forget to visit PubHub, where you can browse hundreds of reports related to the environment and environmental concerns.

-- Kyoko Uchida

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