Urban to the left (Baltimore MD). Rural to the right (near Wrightsville PA). In either case, most of these kids had never been in or on the water before these experiences, despite living just short distances away.
(Photos: left – James Chang for NPS; right – NPS)

In today’s Lightning Update we try two things at once — reporting on last week’s urban focused working session on public health and conservation, and previewing this week’s rural focused session on the same!


Public Health & Conservation in URBAN AREAS


Public Health & Conservation in RURAL AREAS

In the second session of our Annual Meeting series, a diverse group of 60 participants gathered for work in Zoom breakout rooms using a Covision interface to think through advancing urban public health through conservation.

We haven’t yet had time to fully process the plethora of ideas generated, but in live-time we did identify a series of themes coming from responses to the two questions we posed. Here’s a quick download:

The Question: When you think of the urban areas throughout the watershed, how can the public health goal, with a particular focus on equity, be achieved through our collective work?

Key themes of participant ideas:

  • Can’t solve problems in silos (e.g. parks, crime, water, healthcare). Urban spaces require integrated collaboration — whole of community: government, organizations, healthcare, etc. We’re not there yet.
  • Need a specific urban conservation goal. City conservation looks different from landscape conservation. Need a lens of urban livability. Conservation can drive that. Needs to encompass land ownership, climate, access to sidewalks, transportation, accessibility for all, and more.
  • Parks, open space, green infrastructure and how they benefit communities should be part of design, review and financing of housing and commercial development projects in low income, park-deficient neighborhoods.
  • From the very beginning we have to have clear strategies for avoiding green gentrification. There are good examples of this, like the 11th Street Bridge Equitable Development Plan in DC and work in Portland, OR.
  • Authentic communication, outreach, and welcoming about park and green space access opportunities is crucial. Access to these spaces has a history of barriers for communities of color; need places to welcome communities; where people see others like themselves (including as staff); acknowledge different ways of recreating. And access should be free.
  • Community context and leadership is paramount — bring people to the table who might not necessarily be invited.
    Increase assistance and funding to neighborhood-based groups that haven’t had access; activating those groups and offering seed funding to those mostly volunteer-based groups; sharing lessons learned and best practices across community groups struggling with similar challenges.

The Question: What policy ideas do you have for furthering work toward the equitable public health goal?

Key themes of participant ideas:

  • Need tax incentives for urban farming. Invest in soil or on the the products of the land.
  • Pursue Green Bonds bills, including funding workforce development. Prioritize equity zones.
  • Push funders to demonstrate equity criteria in their decision making and fund equity and health impact assessments.
  • Re-prioritize current parks, recreation and conservation funds to tip the scales in favor of organizations, neighborhoods and communities long under-resourced and disadvantaged.
  • Create equity requirements in funding programs.
  • Fund experimental concepts with smaller projects (e.g. community gardens)
  • Ensure funding for urban land trusts and conservation is on par with or exceeding what rural land conservation gets.
  • Minimizing crowding should be a goal and generate priorities for new park resources. Build criteria in funding to prioritize areas that are experiencing crowding. Track not just proximity to these spaces but track by population. It is a per capita issue.
  • Require public schools to provide multiple opportunities for students to engage in outdoor learning experiences. Policy to encourage/require more outdoor experiences in school. Funding for teacher training, professional development
  • Intersectional Environmentalism: Form holistic teams to bring the right people to the table to work on policy. Identify champions. Needs to come from the top; secretaries for planning, natural resources, environment, and health dept need to co-lead this. Departments of public health could be doing more; we need to engage them.
  • Update ordinances for adequate public facilities. Develop and stick to health impact goals for assessments such as walkability.
  • Adopt connectivity policies in master plans. Bike-ped infrastructure meets access goals.



Session 3 of the
2020 Annual Meeting:
Equity in Health & Access to Green Space in Rural Areas
Thursday October 22
10:00 AM to Noon

This interactive session engages participants in surfacing issues, needs, and ideas related to public health, equity, and access to parks and green space in rural areas of the Chesapeake watershed.

We particularly encourage organizations and individuals working in rural conservation, parks, equity, and public health to join this working session. We need your thoughts and ideas.

Space is limited.

There’s a tendency to think the issues of access to parks, recreation, food and health faced in urban areas don’t apply in rural areas. Not so, say quite a number of researchers. Here’s what one study author found:

“You might live … surrounded by cornfields, all of which are privately owned. You could walk down a county road or a highway, but unless there was community investment in a park or a playground, a walking trail, or some kind of a facility at a local school, moms didn’t have access to nature, even though they were surrounded by it.”

The Rural Health Information Hub notes: “Lacking infrastructure in rural areas is a common barrier to physical activity. Safety fears such as high traffic speeds, the threat of wild animals or loose dogs, and insufficient lighting and sidewalks are all too familiar for rural towns. The feasibility of active transportation, such as walking or biking, is also limited by dispersed rural and remote areas where residents live far from schools, worksites, and other common destinations.”

Quoting Katie Wehr of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, “These challenges are compounded in rural communities due to insufficient tax bases and shifting demographics. There’s a limited understanding of approaches that are working in rural areas.”

The National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA) also notes:

“The more rural an area, the higher the rate of food insecurity, obesity, heart disease and diabetes. Food access and health literacy play a significant role in these public health disparities. More than 15.5 percent of rural residents live in food insecure households, with financial constraints often cited as the primary reason and food deserts — areas with limited access to affordable and nutritious food — as a secondary concern.”

And consider these recommendations quoted from a research brief on active living in rural communities:

  • A major difference between urban and rural environments is regular active transportation may be an unrealistic option for some rural residents. This increases the importance of active recreation opportunities in rural communities, and the need for investment in recreation amenities and transport options.
  • Enhancing features of the rural environment, such as playgrounds, parks and recreational facilities, and diminishing barriers, including isolation, climate, safety fears, cost, lack of transportation, and lack of access to physical activity areas, are both key in addressing active living and obesity in rural communities.
  • Building infrastructure (e.g., wider paved shoulders along rural roads, and pedestrian crossings) and implementing Complete Streets policies that accommodate the needs of pedestrians and bicyclists can help reduce barriers to being physically active.
  • Where resources and budgets are limited, rural communities can start with smaller changes (e.g., repainting existing crosswalks, adding pedestrian signs, updating and promoting Safe Routes to School, reviewing town-wide snow-removal policies) to build momentum for larger changes.
  • Isolation, lengthy travel distances, and lack of transportation may be the largest barriers to being physically active in many rural areas, especially for those who live too far away to walk to school or work, for children who rely on adults for transportation and for others without access to a car. Expanding transportation options can help get children and adults to physical activity facilities and programs.
  • Creative, local solutions tailored to specific community culture, geography, climate and needs are necessary when addressing rural active living. Bringing rural community members and stakeholders together can help initiate conversations and positive changes in communities.
  • It is important to consider the needs of rural subpopulations, including minorities, seniors, individuals with disabilities, children and others when designing environmental, programmatic, and policy changes related to active living.

All of this and more — including what comes from sessions this week and next — will feed into work at the Partnership’s November 17 Annual Meeting on operationalizing a public health goal in relation to conservation.

The Partnership’s 2020 Annual Meeting is cosponsored by:

Land Trust Alliance

Don’t forget to send us your 2020 land conservation success stories as they develop. They’ll land in the new and growing collection at success.chesapeakeconservation.org, a tool we can all use to show collective impact. See the checklist below for easy-to-follow, simple guidelines.