Let’s Talk About Equitable Access to Green Space

“Parks are lungs of the city—they bring life to urban space, allowing people opportunities for play, physical activity, recreation, social interactions, and personal and spiritual growth.” – Ewelina M. Swierad

If parks are the lungs of a city, then parks also determine the health of the people who live there. We could also say that cities with more green spaces and parks have healthier residents who enjoy a higher quality of life. Unfortunately, many cities do not have parks and green spaces that are easily accessible to everyone.

There is significantly less public green space in low-income and BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) communities. “One-third of California residents don’t have access to safe, welcoming outdoor places — not just during emergencies — but all of the time.” Guillermo Rodriguez notes in his opinion piece for Cal Matters. As we enter the fourth month of the global pandemic with many still sheltering-in-place, the ability to go outside and get fresh air has become a lifeline. Yet access to green space is not the same for everyone.

In Modesto alone, people living in the Eastern part of the city are expected to live 5 years less than those who live in the more affluent neighborhoods in the Northern part of the city. This is deeply unjust, and speaks to the environmental injustices and inhumanity communities of color are faced with every single day.

No one’s life should be cut short because of the neighborhood they live in.

Having equitable access to the outdoors offers members of our communities the chance to combat social isolation, maintain physical and emotional health, establish healthy habits, and participate in stewardship activities that protect and restore the environment. There is much evidence that demonstrates the relationship between urban green spaces/parks and public health.

Parks have been shown to be associated with increased physical activity, improved physical and mental health, lower body mass index (BMI), and reduced stress and anxiety (click each link to learn more). Green space also protects people from the detrimental effects of stress on their health by decreasing heart rate, muscle tension, blood pressure, and inflammatory markers. Communities that do not have the same access to outdoor spaces are disproportionately facing related health issues as a result of this disparity.

Safe access to green space and parks should be a human right. This is why we have made it part of our mission to work with the city of Modesto to ensure safe and equitable access to local parks for our riverside communities.

With your help, we will continue our work to improve equitable access to parks in the Central Valley through programs like Charlas Comunitarias, partnership with Operation 9-2-99, and TRAC (Tuolumne River Adventure Club).

As we raise awareness around Environmental Justice in these times of change, we will continue to work in partnership with community leaders to improve parks and outdoor spaces in Modesto.

Will You Join us?

Other reads on environmental justice and safe access to parks:

Being Black While in Nature
Keep the Parks Open
Connecting Children and Families to Nature During the Pandemic