Everyone deserves safe and easy access to parks, but that is not the case in many communities across our Country. One in three Americans don’t have a park within a 10-minute walk (or half-mile) of their home.
There are a few reasons as to why these inequities exist in communities such as barriers that limit walkability to parks or makes walking to parks undesirable. Distance and physical barriers are the most common obstacles to safe routes to parks but there are also social barriers such as crime and safety concerns . Physical barriers include the lack of infrastructure such as sidewalks and crosswalks and the presence of large roadways such as interstates and commercial corridors. Geographical barriers are in the form of rivers and ravines. Most of these barriers are a result of engineering, zoning, land use and design trends that have existed in the United States for the past 50 years.
Communities most in need of access to parks, and that have the least safe access to parks, are usually ones that have experienced historical disinvestment and where violence and crime are prevalent; there are high levels of traffic incidences; and there are high rates of weight-related diseases or conditions. It is time to provide equitable access and safe walking connections to parks to these communities. A few organizations are already taking the lead.
The National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA) has created the Safe Routes to Parks campaign to implement strategies that create safe and equitable access to parks for all people. Over the long term, with increased safety and accessibility, Safe Routes to Parks seeks to increase park usage and improve health for people of all ages, races, abilities, and income levels.
Safe Routes to Parks is important for kids who are not old enough to drive themselves to parks; seniors, who may not wish to drive; and for people who rely on walking or bicycling to get around.
“Parks are an essential part of every community,” said Barbara Tulipane, NRPA president and CEO. “Through the Safe Routes to Parks initiative, we will increase access to these vital resources and improve the health and wellness of millions of Americans living in underserved areas that are most vulnerable to health disparities.”
The NRPA Safe Routes to Parks Action Framework provides professionals with a “how-to” guide to implement Safe Routes to Parks strategies. NRPA is currently piloting this framework with ten communities. Learn more about those projects here.
Safe Routes to Parks has some basic tenets:
- Conveniently located within approximately one-half mile (10-minute walk) from where people live
- Accessible via multiple modes of transportation for people of all ages and abilities
- Safe from traffic and personal danger
- Comfortable and appealing places to walk or bicycle
- End at parks that are well-maintained and programmed
The NRPA, in collaboration with the Safe Routes to School National Partnership, developed 5 fact sheets on how to advance safe and equitable access to parks. These fact sheets demonstrate ideas and examples of strategies to advance equity in each stage of a community’s Safe Routes to Parks efforts. They explore what it means to meaningfully engage community residents, assess community priorities, develop a tailored community plan that reflects a community’s goals, bring a community plan to action, and incorporate equitable Safe Routes to Parks efforts into the fabric of a community.
- Community Engagement: The Core of Equitable Safe Routes to Parks Efforts (http://bit.ly/2FS2ME2)
- Equity in Planning Charting a Path Toward Safer Park Access (http://bit.ly/2FWw5Fo)
- Equity in Implementation: Putting Plans into Action to Improve Safe Access to Parks (http://bit.ly/2FPI0F0)
- Keep the Good Work Going: How to Sustain Your Equitable Safe Routes to Parks Efforts (http://bit.ly/2FPI47I)
- Equity in Assessment: Understanding Barriers and Opportunities to Improve Safe Park Access (http://bit.ly/2FT1ybN)
Some communities are already addressing park accessibility challenges. In Birmingham, AL, REV Birmingham, a place-based revitalization and economic development nonprofit, is partnering with the local planning commission and local bike advocacy groups to conduct assessments of perceived barriers to park access and to identify and map lower-stress routes that connect the historic neighborhoods of Titusville & Smithfield via bike trails. They will also produce and distribute marketing materials to raise awareness of safe, convenient ways to access the city’s historic parks, and install bike infrastructure to support physical activity with safe access to parks and trails.
Capital Roots, which has a mission to provide access to fresh food and green spaces to all, is working to formally identify and enhance the 7th Ave Park and 112th Street Park in Troy, NY, as neighborhood resources for residents to use and enjoy. While these parks currently have no existing identification signage or welcoming features, they hold plenty of potential to develop into community hubs. This includes working to improve the design of these parks and enhance local networks, ensuring all Trojans know these spaces are theirs for recreation and enjoyment.
In our own REALTOR® Community, the St. Louis REALTORS® were engaged in two projects that led to creating new parks in communities lacking in park and open spaces for residents. They transformed a vacant piece of land within the St. Louis Greater Ville neighborhood into a community park and turned an empty lot in St. Louis’ Old North area into a pocket park. Read more about these projects.
As to the 10 Minute Walk effort mentioned previously, NRPA, in partnership with the The Trust for Public Land and the Urban Land Institute, is leading a nationwide movement to ensure there’s a great park within a 10 Minute Walk of every person, in every neighborhood, in every city across America. This Campaign calls on our mayors to demonstrate their commitment to parks and inspire them to adopt long-term, system-wide strategies to improve equitable access to quality parks.
How is your town doing? Find out if your mayor has signed on to the 10-Minute Walk mission. And if there is a neighborhood that doesn’t have a park within 10-minute walking distance, you may want to apply for a Placemaking grant to build a pocket park in your neighborhood.
Also see Can You Walk to a Park?