Why the lack of black community parks is an environmental justice issue

Since the Covid-19 pandemic appeared more than 20 months ago, the green spaces of cities across the country have become precious outdoor refuges, places to escape the boredom of life surrounded by four walls.

As the science on the spread of the disease became clearer and the country’s collective mental health plummeted after being stuck at home for months, people were encouraged to spend some time outside. .

For so many people, that meant going to local parks. The only problem, there is a serious lack of racial equality when it comes to parks and other green spaces in American cities. New legislation introduced in Congress aims to change that.

“This bill will increase equitable access to parks in low-income communities and communities of color who generally do not have easy access to nature,” said Damon Nagami of the Natural Resources Defense Council, an international group New York-based environmental advocate. “Reading under a tree, watching a bee pollinate flowers and cartwheel on grass shouldn’t be limited to the wealthiest communities. Increasing green spaces in urban neighborhoods will allow residents to engage in recreational activities that improve their health, while mitigating the effects of climate change, removing pollutants from the air, and reducing the effects of islet. urban heat.

The amount of green space allocated by American cities is around 15% on average, according to a 2021 report from the Trust for Public Land, a San Francisco-based nonprofit environmental organization. In predominantly black towns, which are more abundant in the South, the amount of green space available in many cities is dropping to single digits.

For example, only 3% of the Baton Rouge metropolitan area is designated a park, according to the Trust report. In Memphis it is 5% and in Atlanta it is 6%. In New Orleans, another predominantly black city, the park area exceeds 25%.

However, even within predominantly white cities, communities of color still face a dangerous disparity.

In the 100 most populous cities, neighborhoods where most residents identify as Black, Latino, Native American / Alaskan Native, or Asian American and Pacific Islander have access to less park space on average 44% to that of predominantly white neighborhoods, the report notes.

In general, parks serving the majority of people of color are about half the size of those serving white populations: 45 acres versus 87 acres, according to the report. They also serve about five times as many people as the larger, whiter parks. In low-income areas, parks are, on average, about three-quarters smaller than those in high-income communities.

Environmental justice, although a pressing concern for generations, is the latest racial divide issue to emerge from the pandemic.

“The collective trauma of the past year – from the devastating toll of the pandemic to the gruesome murder of George Floyd – has rippled through American society, sparking widespread attention and action on racial violence, unequal access to health care, health and economic stress, ”said Ronda Chapman, director of equities at the Trust for Public Land. “They also underscored the urgent need for environmental justice and fairness in parks.”

The new bill, reintroduced in Congress at the end of September after his death in 2020, is part of the major campaign for racial equality emanating from Congress and the White House, including President Biden’s much-debated and racially progressive infrastructure program.

In addition to offering grants that will allow cities to expand green spaces into urban neighborhoods and communities, the legislation is designed to empower underserved communities and youth while providing employment and vocational training.

But the benefits of more parks don’t end with racial equity.

Trees are also nature’s cooling centers. Surfaces not exposed to direct sunlight may be 45 degrees cooler, while the air may be 2-9 degrees cooler in areas with an awning, according to an accompanying report from the Trust which cited data from the Environmental Protection Agency.

The report also pointed out that parks can have a cooling effect up to 800 meters from their borders, while helping to reduce emissions from downtown pollution.

Senior US Senator from Georgia, Jon Ossoff, is the only Southern member of Congress to support the bill.

You can see how your city parkland compares with the help of this ranking of the 100 most populous cities in the countryside.

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