About seven years ago community residents began organizing to turn a decaying, abandoned park space into a new model community park in Baltimore. Find out more in this video.
(Photo: Bernard C. Jack Young/Twitter)

Over the past six months, Lightning Updates have explored a range of equity issues related to parks, conservation, and public health. Now — as the Chesapeake Conservation Partnership begins work on operationalizing a new draft public health goal through our 2020 Annual Meeting — we add a bit more information on the subject. 

Wednesday’s (October 14) first working session of the Annual Meeting focuses urban issues. 

With 70% of the watershed population living in urban areas, public health, conservation and parks in those areas is … well, a big deal. As we’ve looked at before, urban areas are also the locations of serious inequities in parks and green space — and directly associated health impacts. 

In support of Wednesday’s working session, let’s look at some ways of thinking about this from the Prevention Institute, a national non-profit working on prevention and health equity. 

First, the inequities didn’t just happen by accident. A series of policies and practices over 


Session 2 of the 

2020 Annual Meeting: 

Equity in Health & Access to Green Space in Urban Areas Wednesday October 14 

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 urban areas of the 

Chesapeake watershed. 

We particularly encourage 

organizations and individuals working in urban conservation, parks, equity, and public health to join this working

time have created them. This helpful graphic on 

causes of park inequity pretty much lays it out:session. We need your thoughts and ideas. 

Space is limited. 


How do we work on reversing this? Prevention Institute outlines “A Framework for Park Equity” for thinking about what equity means. It’s worth simply quoting verbatim: 

Procedural Equity: Procedural equity involves decision-making processes—related to all aspects of parks and green space from placement to design, construction, and programming— that are transparent, equitable, and inclusive with regard to who participates, how they are engaged, and how input is valued. It also covers processes inherent in the equitable and just provision of parks and green spaces services. Procedural equity can be assessed in relation to the following core functions, including but not limited to: 

Decision-making about all aspects of park and green space functions 

Community engagement to secure input at each stage of park development Condition and quality of park and green space infrastructure, amenities, and features Staffing and services related to operations, maintenance, and programming Perceived and actual safety in and around parks and green spaces 

Policy and programmatic approaches to preventing and mitigating the risks associated with park and green space development 

Distributional Equity: Distributional equity is often the first thing people think about when they consider park and green space equity because it is the most readily quantifiable. Distributional equity primarily covers: 

Distribution and accessibility of parks and green spaces in communities 

Distribution of facilities, amenities, and features placed within a park or green space Fiscal allocation formulas for park and green space development or improvements, including general funds, expenditure plans for public finance measures, competitive grant-making processes, etc. 

Allocation of funding and staff to conduct inclusive and relevant recreational programming and ensure maintenance of facilities 

Prioritize strategic planning and innovation-focused on achieving park equity Job training and workforce development programs for low-income residents of park poor communities 

Structural Equity: Structural equity addresses underlying structural factors and policies that give rise to parks and green space inequities in the first place. It makes a commitment to correct past harms and prevent future unintended consequences. While less quantifiable than the other dimensions of equity, structural equity related to parks and green spaces can include: 

Improving staff representation at all agency levels among people of color and other marginalized groups

Internalizing and operationalizing equity and racial justice across agency staff and leadership, including local knowledge of historical and present-day injustices and accountability metrics to redress spatial and operational disparities 

Designing and programming park facilities and green space to function as sites of healing and resilience, and to address a holistic range of neighborhood needs, threats, assets and opportunities 

Developing protections to ensure that green development doesn’t lead to displacement of long-term residents and businesses 

What about specific policy recommendations for working to reverse these park inequities? Here is a set outlined in a Prevention Institute policy brief, again, mostly verbatim: 

  1. Agencies responsible for funding park acquisition and development should target substantial funding to reverse park and green space deficits, prioritizing Black and Latino communities burdened with significant park need and low life expectancy. 
  2. Park agencies, elected officials, non-profit park developers, and advocates should utilize data-informed maps and tools to identify priority neighborhoods and engage local residents and organizations to plan new parks or improve existing parks. This is best practice in equitable park development. 
  3. Elected officials in park-poor jurisdictions should act to increase general fund allocations for their park agencies and establish initiatives to address this primary driver of built environment inequities and reverse park and green space deficits. 
  4. Future public finance measures for parks and green space should involve groups representing low-income Black and Latino communities from the outset to craft needs based and evidence-informed expenditure plans that explicitly address park and green space deficits. 
  5. Elected and appointed officials in park-poor jurisdictions should allocate resources for independent equity analyses of park systems to investigate local drivers of distributional, procedural, and structural park inequities. 
  6. Funders should support community-based organizations to advocate for public investments in parks and green space in areas with significant park need and low life expectancy to reverse inequities. Given the complexity of reversing park inequities in disinvested communities, community-based organizations require adequate, consistent funding for capacity-building, dedicated staff, and policy advocacy programming. 
  7. Funders should support community-based organizations to conduct independent community oversight of revenue allocations and expenditures for transparency and accountability in management of public funds. Community-based organizations need resources to engage over the long term. 
  8. Funders should support community-based organizations to participate in future park and green space public finance measures using unrestricted grant resources. Public finance is highly specialized, exclusive, and generally lacks connection to low-income communities of color and the organizations that represent their interests. 
  9. Park agencies and/or funders should contract with independent researchers or academic institutions to conduct periodic, formal evaluations of finance measures for parks and green space to assess their effectiveness in meeting goals and objectives. 
  10. Park agencies should develop and maintain a publicly accessible data dashboard that integrates all relevant revenue allocation information to facilitate expenditure monitoring and evaluation of efforts to close equity gaps. 
  11. Park developers should require contractors who build or retrofit parks in high-need areas to engage in local, targeted hiring practices and work with non-traditional employment agencies to employ disadvantaged residents. 
  12. Park agencies and/or funders should support formation of a task force comprised of researchers, housing and park policy specialists, and representatives of community based organizations to examine evidence of green displacement, understand causes and solutions, and develop a model displacement-avoidance policy. 

There’s more to equity issues in urban areas than parks, but this is a core piece for conservationists. And there are more policy recommendations out there than these. But as the Partnership considers how to operationalize the public health goal through this year’s Annual Meeting, these are among the concepts to review. 

We’ll continue to profile policy recommendations and case studies related to parks, equity, conservation, and public health in coming Lightning Updates.

The Partnership’s 2020 Annual Meeting is cosponsored by: 

Lightning Update is a regular communication of the Chesapeake Conservation Partnership. Any opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect positions of the Partnership or member organizations.
To share a success story, news, or important event, send your information to:

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Support for the Chesapeake Conservation Partnership is provided by:
National Park Service Chesapeake
EPA Chesapeake Bay Program
USDA Forest Service
Pennsylvania Department of Conservation & Natural Resources
Maryland Department of Natural Resources
Virginia Outdoors Foundation
US Fish & Wildlife Service
Chesapeake Conservancy

The Chesapeake Conservation Partnership is co-convened by: