Why Parks Access is an Equity Issue
Think back to your favorite local or regional park or open space you visited as a child or one where you’ve spent time as an adult. Think about the range of people you saw when you were there. Did they reflect the range of diversity in your community? Did you have the opportunity to live in a diverse community?
Many people become environmentalists because they have access to undeveloped local open space, either as a child or later in life. The local and regional open space that Greenbelt Alliance seeks to protect are the most accessible places for diverse communities, including economically disadvantaged groups, to breathe freely and explore nature.
Here at Greenbelt Alliance, one of our goals is to make parks and open space throughout the Bay Area accessible and safe for everyone to enjoy. And as we consider the many benefits parks and open spaces provide to communities, we’re reminded that access to nature is a resource that, like any other, should be shared equitably.
What do we mean by equity? According to one definition, from Race Forward, “Equity means fairness and justice and focuses on outcomes that are most appropriate for a given group, recognizing different challenges, needs, and histories.”
Greenbelt Alliance staff are working on how to incorporate an even deeper focus on equity into our day-to-day work. As we protect and preserve open space and support smart infill development in cities and towns throughout our region, we also represent and advocate for Bay Area residents across the income spectrum. With economic disparity rapidly increasing throughout our region, we wrestle with equity issues to find opportunities for equitable outcomes in our campaigns.
Why Parks Access Matters in Solano County
One of the main campaigns where we’re taking an increasingly equity-oriented approach is our work to establish and fund a countywide park and open space district in Solano County. Solano County is the only county in the Bay Area that doesn’t have a park district and open space district. It also happens to be one of the most racially diverse counties in the entire country and encompasses Vallejo, the most racially diverse city in America. Solano also has the lowest per capita income of any county in the Bay Area. Given the many ways Solano differs from the rest of the region, it’s clear that, if we are focusing on fairness, justice, and the outcome of our work, a unique approach will be necessary.
Solano County is the only county in the Bay Area that doesn’t have a park district. It also happens to be one of the most racially diverse counties in the entire country and encompasses Vallejo, the most racially diverse city in America. Solano also has the lowest per capita income of any county in the Bay Area. Given the many ways Solano differs from the rest of the region, it’s clear that, if we are focusing on fairness, justice, and the outcome of our work, a unique approach will be necessary.
We know that parks and open space are vital components to a high quality of life for people of all ages, backgrounds, and identities. We also know that living near a park or having access to park and recreation facilities leads to more regular physical activity and better health outcomes. Residents from all walks of life feel a greater sense of belonging, community, and connection when they have well-maintained parks and open space surrounding them. That’s why it’s so important that everyone has access to parks and open space that they can recreate in and enjoy.
As we plan for the Solano Park District, we want to ensure that underrepresented communities throughout Solano County can provide their input and their vision for the county’s parks and recreation facilities. Our goal is that underrepresented communities from Vallejo to Fairfield to Dixon will have the resources and knowledge to access and enjoy Solano parks and open spaces in the years to come.
The Path Toward Parks Access Equity in Solano County
Our partners and allies throughout the state are already supporting these efforts. In the June 2018 primary election, voters all across the state of California overwhelmingly supported Proposition 68—a $4.1 billion dollar park bond bill. Of that money, $775 million is designated for “park-poor areas” throughout the state; millions more are dedicated to improving access to public lands. Orson Aguilar of the Greenlining Institute recently wrote on Prop 68, “Thoughtfully guided by the communities affected, these Prop. 68 dollars have immense potential to help disadvantaged communities invest in water and parks infrastructure in ways that improve the well-being and health of residents.”
We are on track for a Solano County Park and Open Space District to go to the ballot in 2020. The County is currently creating an administrative and finance plan for the district that will lay out the infrastructure of what the district will look like, essentially serving as a district blueprint in the years to come. We will continue asking these key questions about how to create access to parks for every resident of Solano County as we work with and listen to underrepresented communities about what they envision for their county’s open space in the years to come.
We look forward to the children of Solano County residents growing up with a wide array of local and regional parks and open spaces, where they will enjoy nature as children and where those memories will help form their futures as environmental protectors when they become adults.