Planning for Equity in Parks with Green Infrastructure

From the Natural Recreation and Park Association, this report summarizes research on the social and health outcomes related to the implementation of green infrastructure and parks in traditionally underserved communities. Findings suggest that while green infrastructure and green space can buffer climate impacts, they also enhance social equity by building social capital, improving health outcomes, and increasing economic opportunities.   

At the site or neighborhood scale, green infrastructure can filter stormwater and mitigate the urban heat island effect, while also providing opportunities for physical activity, stress reduction, and social interaction. Studies have also found that low-income communities and majority racial or ethnic minority populations tend to have access to less parkland and green infrastructure than do residents of other neighborhoods. Therefore, the benefits of green infrastructure typically do not exist in neighborhoods of social inequities and environmental injustice.

Here are some of the findings as related to the key points of this report. (Please see linked report for research citations):

#1 Parks that include green infrastructure can build social capital in traditionally underserved communities.

Access to parks with green infrastructure provides opportunities for building social capital through social interactions. For example, a series of related studies of public housing residents found multiple links between green infrastructure and social capital, including:

  • Common open areas with trees and grass attracted larger and more diverse groups of residents than hardscaped common areas
  • Residents interacted more in common open spaces with trees and grass than in hardscaped open spaces
  • Residents with better access to green space had stronger social ties
  • Elderly residents with better access to green common areas had stronger social relationships and a more positive sense of community

#2 Parks that include green infrastructure can improve health outcomes in traditionally underserved communities.

Beyond air and water quality regulation, parks that include green infrastructure can also affect health by providing an environment conducive to physical activity. In addition, access to green space also seems to improve mental health, and moderate stress. “In Chicago, a study of children living in architecturally identical public housing with access to different amounts of common green space found that views of nature improved concentration, impulse control, and delayed gratification.”

#3 Parks that include green infrastructure can increase economic opportunities in traditionally underserved communities.

The jobs directly created by adding green infrastructure to parks can includes manual laborers for landscaping and grounds-keeping work. In addition, education and training providers can target specific underserved communities for green infrastructure training.

#4 Careful planning and continued engagement is necessary to ensure that traditionally underserved communities receive these benefits and are not displaced through a process of environmental gentrification

The NRPA suggests that “targeted housing and economic development strategies should address preserving and expanding the affordable housing stock, relieving immediate pressures on low-income tenants and homeowners, and building income and wealth among existing low-income residents.”


Publication Date: October 2017

Related Organizations:

  • Natural Recreation and Park Association

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Resource Types:

  • Best practice


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