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    Parks Are Not Perks: Everyone Deserves Access to Great Outdoor Experiences

    September 20, 2018
    by Diane Regas

    As Blue Sky works to advance access to opportunities to learn, play, and grow outdoors, The Trust for Public Land is leading the movement to ensure that all communities have access to great parks. In celebration of The Trust for Public Land's first annual National Walk to a Park Day on October 10, we are excited to share this piece from Diane Regas, president and CEO of The Trust for Public Land.

    For too long, city parks have been thought of as perks. A park is a “nice-to-have” and not a “need-to-have,” pushed to the bottom of the list of infrastructure improvements if it’s included at all. Sure, people appreciate playgrounds or green space in the neighborhood, but they don’t expect or demand access to a park within easy reach of everyone.

    Those of us who have spent our careers advocating for the health and wellness of people and the planet believe it’s time for that to change. As research confirms in study after study, parks are critical to the physical, social, environmental, and economic health of a community. People are healthier and happier when they can stroll through a grove of trees or just relax on a park bench. Parks and green spaces boost local economies. And they keep our air and water clean and make our communities more resilient as the climate shifts.

    That’s why The Trust for Public Land is leading a movement to put a great park within a 10-minute walk of everyone, in every neighborhood, in every city in America. Over the next ten years, if we can help catalyze the creation of 10,000 new parks for the communities that need them most, we can bring 30 million people within a 10-minute walk of a park where they can exercise, relax, and enjoy nature. In a step toward this goal, we are excited that October 10 is the first National Walk to a Park Day—a day to celebrate the parks we have, and call attention to the parks we need.

    Already, The Trust for Public Land has created or protected more than 5,000 special places—from neighborhood parks to national parks. We were founded to connect people to nature. Our mission is to create parks and protect land for people, ensuring healthy, livable communities for generations to come.

    That means we work hard to save wide open spaces and wildlands, working ranches, and backcountry trails that capture our imaginations and beckon us to adventure. But since our founding in 1972, we’ve also focused on creating green spaces in cities, because cities are where most Americans first forge a lifelong, everyday connection with the natural world.

    Just ask Nejat, a girl growing up in West Philadelphia. Nejat’s fourth grade class helped The Trust for Public Land design a greener, more beautiful playground at her school, Patterson Elementary. When I met her, she told me all about how she and her classmates helped decide how the playground would look, but also how the design would absorb flood-waters and cool her dense, diverse neighborhood. Her first-hand grasp of the challenges her community faces, and how parks and green space can help tackle them, was impressive … all the more so considering she’s only twelve years old.

    For Nejat and so many others, schoolyards and city parks are not just a place to play—they are the trailhead to an informed, soulful relationship with the natural world. How can we expect future generations to protect our planet if they never get to experience the magic of being outdoors?

    Until recently, there was no way to know how well our parks were working for the people and neighborhoods that need them most. But through The Trust for Public Land’s cutting-edge GIS analysis and a decade of collecting data on parks from 14,000 municipalities across the country, we’ve revealed a troubling picture: 1 in 3 Americans don’t have a park within a 10-minute walk of home. That’s more than 100 million people, including 28 million kids, without a safe place to play.

    Our challenge today is to move the needle fast enough to address this urgent need. We’re the nation’s leading nonprofit building parks in cities, so we know as well as anyone how ambitious our vision is. Here’s how we’ll achieve it.

    We’re working at all levels of government to educate elected officials on the importance of great parks for the people they represent. Over the past year, we’ve established new partnerships with the mayors of more than 200 cities across the country. They’ve each signed a pledge to improve park access and quality for their residents. We’re drawing on 45 years of park-building expertise to help mayoral administrations set and meet ambitious goals for park access, investment, and quality. 

    We’re also raising public funds for parks and conservation at the polls—more than $68 billion and counting. This election cycle, we’re supporting 19 state and local ballot measures, enabling communities to generate the funds they need to invest in the parks they deserve. 

    In Washington, DC, our legislative experts are hard at work rallying support among lawmakers for programs like the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF). Established by Congress in 1964, it aims to protect the nation's most iconic landscapes—and bolster local and state parks systems across the country—without taxing everyday Americans. LWCF is set to expire at the end of September, and we’re an integral part of the broad coalition that’s working to permanently renew this critical federal program. 

    But we also know that government alone can’t solve this urgent problem. Our success will depend on changing hearts and minds of everyday Americans to stand with us, to expect and demand fair, equitable access to great parks for everyone in their communities, and to join us at the drawing board when we sit down to design and create new parks in their neighborhoods.

    If you share our conviction that everyone deserves a park within a 10-minute walk of home, please join us to celebrate the first annual National Walk to a Park Day on October 10. Visit www.tpl.org/national-walk-to-a-park-day to get involved and pledge your support.

     

    Diane Regas is president and CEO of The Trust for Public Land. Prior to The Trust for Public Land, Diane worked for more than a decade at Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), most recently as executive director, where she helped EDF advance solutions that promote prosperity for all people and for the planet. Prior to EDF, Diane served at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, working under both Democratic and Republican administrations as the top civil servant protecting our nation’s rivers, lakes, and bays. An avid outdoor explorer, Diane resides in Berkeley, CA.

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