Promoting the Development of New Urban Parks in Low-Income Communities
Emerging evidence suggests that creating and enhancing parks and playgrounds can increase physical activity and improve health. From 2005 to 2007, the Trust for Public Land's Healthy Parks, Healthy Communities program worked with community groups in four Western cities to promote the development of new urban parks.
- Some 67 people from local agencies received training in conservation funding.
- The Trust for Public Land's National GIS (Geographic Information System) office completed park equity maps for Los Angeles and Santa Ana, Calif.; Pueblo, Colo.; and Yuma, Ariz.
- The project made substantial progress on a campaign to fund new parks in Santa Ana, Calif.
The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) provided an unsolicited $200,000 grant from October 2005 to December 2007 to support this project.
Communities with lower incomes, higher poverty rates and higher proportions of racial and ethnic minorities those most at risk of being sedentary and overweight have the fewest opportunities for physical activity, according to the Trust for Public Land. Although the relationship between parks and physical activity levels requires more study, emerging evidence suggests that creating and enhancing parks and playgrounds can increase physical activity and improve health.
The Trust for Public Land is a national, nonprofit, land conservation organization. As part of its work, it helps states and localities develop ballot initiatives to fund open space acquisition and parkland improvements.
Most of this work has been in suburban and rural areas, but in early 2005, with support from the Resources Legacy Fund, the organization hired a community organizer and several consultants to build support for parks and conservation within low-income communities of color in Los Angeles County. The effort, managed by the trust's Healthy Parks, Healthy Communities program, promoted better health as one reason to support expanding parks.
RWJF seeks to reverse the upward trend in childhood obesity by 2015. RWJF has developed three integrated strategies to reverse the childhood obesity epidemic: evidence, action and advocacy.
- Evidence. Investments in building the evidence base will help ensure that the most promising efforts are replicated throughout the nation.
- Action. RWJF's action strategy for communities and schools focuses on engaging partners at the local level, building coalitions and promoting the most promising approaches.
- Advocacy. As RWJF staff learns from the evidence and action strategies, it shares results by educating leaders and investing in advocacy, building a broad national constituency for childhood obesity prevention.
This project fits the action and advocacy strategies.
This project sought to build on the work that the Trust for Public Land was doing in Los Angeles County and make its conservation finance expertise available to health advocacy organizations. The project engaged with local community organizations by providing three services:
- Training in advocacy: The project trained local groups to advocate for new parks. It also conducted a park equity analysis based on GIS (Geographic Information System) that examined the relationship between community demographics (e.g., number of children in low-income families) and park access.
- Training in conservation finance: The project helped local groups learn the process for securing public funds for parks.
- Implementation: The project conducted feasibility research to locate funding sources (such as taxes or bonds). It conducted public opinion surveys to gauge voter support for parkland funding. If there was sufficient support, it provided technical assistance to its local partner, whose staff worked to get a funding measure on the ballot.
Staff at the Trust for Public Land's Healthy Parks, Healthy Communities project worked with nonprofit organizations in four areas to implement the Healthy Parks, Healthy Communities project:
- Community Coalition, Los Angeles: The project provided training in advocacy and conservation finance and explored the feasibility of an assessment district for park funding in the San Gabriel Valley. The Community Coalition was unable to secure additional funds to move the project forward.
- Latino Health Access in Santa Ana, Calif.: The project provided training in advocacy and conservation finance, conducted a feasibility study and produced a media plan and outreach advertisements.
- Colorado Progressive Coalition, Pueblo, Colo.: The project provided training in advocacy and conservation finance and conducted a public opinion poll that found strong interest in public financing for parks. However, the Colorado Progressive Coalition decided to focus on other issues.
- Yuma County Interfaith Sponsoring Committee, Yuma, Ariz.: The project provided training in advocacy and conservation finance and examined conservation finance options. However, after an organizational restructuring, the Yuma County Interfaith Sponsoring Committee was no longer interested in participating in the project.
In addition to working with nonprofit organizations, the trust had intended to provide technical assistance to government officials in three urban communities that had public finance initiatives for parks and open space already underway. Sustaining local collaborations proved to be more labor intensive than anticipated, however. The trust, with RWJF's assent, dropped the plans for assisting local governments.
At the outset, the trust expected that its partners would raise additional funding for their local initiatives. In 2006, The California Endowment provided Latino Heath Access in Santa Ana, Calif., $100,000 to work with the trust on a conservation finance measure in Santa Ana. None of the other local partners succeeded in raising funds for their projects.
The trust also found it challenging to interest local health-focused organizations in land conservation efforts. According to the project director, the idea of pursuing a conservation finance mechanism is new to many potential health partners and can be daunting. In addition, they have competing priorities many provide direct services and concentrate on advocating for basic needs such as housing, education, employment, nutrition and health care.
In 2006, The California Endowment provided the Trust for Public Land $200,000 and Latino Heath Access in Santa Ana, Calif., $100,000 to work in partnership to build support for a conservation finance measure in Santa Ana.
From 2006 through 2008, the Trust for Public Land used $45,000 from a larger grant from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation to support the Healthy Parks, Healthy Communities project, specifically to engage new constituents around conservation finance.
In reports to RWJF, project staff reported the following results:
- Some 67 people from local agencies received training in conservation funding. Training meetings covered health disparities, park inequities and conservation finance. Training took place in:
- Santa Ana, Calif., on April 5, 2006
- Pueblo, Colo., on November 18, 2006
- The trust's national GIS office completed park equity maps for Los Angeles and Santa Ana, Calif.; Pueblo, Colo.; and Yuma, Ariz. Based on census, demographic and other data, the maps provide a visual documentation of existing parkland and park deficits in low-income communities. More information on, and examples of, park equity mapping are available online.
- The project made substantial progress on a campaign to fund new parks in Santa Ana, Calif. Santa Ana has the highest unmet demand for park space of any California city, according to the project director. During the grant period, the project:
- Educated community members and city officials on the link between open space and public health.
- Completed a feasibility study on expanding parks in the city.
- Produced a media plan and outreach advertisements.
- Working toward policy solutions, especially if they involve raising public funds, requires patience and can take a long period of time. However, the right mix of strategies with both short- and long-term outcomes can yield community- and policy-level changes. For example, the partnership with Latino Health Access in Santa Ana spanned the better part of two years. (Project Director)
- It is sometimes not feasible to work exclusively on park and open space issues because community groups have broader public health concerns. In conversations about neighborhood parks and their importance as physical activity venues, community members expressed concerns about park safety issues and their interest in community gardens as a means to provide local healthy food sources in communities that lack access to grocery stores. (Project Director)
AFTER THE GRANT
The trust continues to work with urban community groups on park acquisition issues. Shortly after the grant period ended, the trust and Latino Health Access conducted a public opinion poll in Santa Ana, Calif., which found broad public support for expanded parks in the city. A referendum to increase the sales tax for parks was planned for November 2008 but was then postponed because of political conflicts. The measure, which requires a two-thirds vote to pass, could be rescheduled for November 2010.
In 2006, California voters approved a statewide bond measure that included $400 million for the creation of new urban parks. The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation provided the Trust for Public Land with funding to create a database and mapping tool to identify the California cities most in need of new parks. The California Endowment provided funding to place this tool online so that the recipients of the bond money and others could conduct their own park equity analyses.
GRANT DETAILS & CONTACT INFORMATION
Healthy Parks, Healthy Communities: A Policy Initiative to Create Safe Parks and Improve Physical Activity Settings in Low-Income Communities
Trust for Public Land (Boston, MA)
Dates: October 2005 to December 2007
(Current as of date of this report; as provided by grantee organization; not verified by RWJF; items not available from RWJF.)
Park Inequities and Heath Disparities in California Fact Sheet. San Francisco: Trust for Public Land, September 2006.
Park Safety and Physical Activity. San Francisco: Trust for Public Land, 2007.
Policy Brief: Addressing Health Disparities and Park Inequities Through Public Financing of Parks, Playgrounds and Other Physical Activity Settings. San Francisco: Trust for Public Land, November 2005.
Wildlands Preservation Fact Sheet. San Francisco: Trust for Public Land, 2007.
Presentations and Testimony
Heng Lam Foong and Breece Robertson, "GIS Modeling for Healthy Parks, Healthy Communities; Using ModelBuilder to Determine Community Park Needs," at the ESRI Health GIS Conference, October 9, 2007, Scottsdale, Ariz. Proceedings available online.
Heng Lam Foong, Marybeth Vergara and Wendy Muzzy, "Healthy Parks Healthy Communities," at the American Public Health Association Annual Meeting and Expo, November 5, 2007, Washington. Abstract available online.
Report prepared by: Barbara Matacera Barr
Reviewed by: Robert Narus
Reviewed by: Molly McKaughan
Program Officer: Angela K. McGowan