by Matthew Wilkins, PLA, ASLA, APA
This last year has provided an awakening on issues of equality and our environment. One issue in particular that impacts communities nationwide and can be enhanced by landscape architects, is the ease of access and quality of parks. This topic of access to quality parks and open space has been given emphasis throughout the COVID-19 pandemic as parks and open space became vital places to work, live, learn, heal, and seek refuge. Coupled with looming environmental challenges and the ability for parks and open space to help protect and mitigate these impacts, there has never been a better time to focus our attention on the topic of creating healthy and equitable parks. This is our call to action.
Throughout the COVID pandemic, communities of color and those in stressed socio-economic areas have suffered from the inability to social distance and recreate in a safe and therapeutic environment. This adversity has compounded existing health issues impacting these communities, such as diabetes, hypertension, and obesity which are intertwined among various other environmental health hazards and conditions. Many of these communities are also at higher risk of adverse environmental impacts and are typically at a higher risk of displacement or damage due to extreme weather events. Considering the current impacts of COVID and future challenges they face from changing environmental conditions, one thing is evident, that immediate attention is needed to address our equity and abundance of parks and open space for the health, safety, and wellbeing of our communities across America.
Though parks and open space may seem like a low priority in budgeting for cities and agencies, it’s time for a paradigm shift to seeing these resources as significant or equal to vital social and healthcare services, as these spaces help to bring communities together and allow for therapeutic opportunities to increase health and physical enjoyment and to connect people with nature. Furthermore, park and open space areas serve as vital green infrastructure for communities facing intensified challenges due to climate change, because they serve as critical space to combat and lower the impacts of potential storms and natural disasters.