US parks in minority neighborhoods half the size of those in white areas

Nina Lakhani
·3-min read
<span>Photograph: Alamy Stock Photo</span>
Photograph: Alamy Stock Photo

Communities of color in the US must make do with smaller, more overcrowded public parks compared with white Americans, as the country struggles to cope with record-breaking heatwaves and Covid-19 restrictions on swimming pools, beaches and communal cooling centres.

Public parks in majority black and brown neighborhoods are half the size and almost five times as crowded, according to new research by the Trust for Public Land.

Spending time in green spaces reduces stress and improves physical and psychological wellbeing for adults and children, but shady spots can also protect people from deadly extreme heat.

In addition, the study of 14,000 towns and cities around America found that parks serving majority low-income households are on average four times smaller and four times more crowded than parks that serve mostly high-income households.

The findings support a mounting body of evidence linking environmental injustice to longstanding racial and income inequalities that are being further exacerbated by the climate crisis.

Extreme heat is among the deadliest weather hazards humanity faces due to the climate crisis, which contributes to more than 5,000 prematures deaths in the US every year. Counties with large black and brown populations already endure significantly more dangerously hot days than white communities, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists.

This year is on track to be at least the second hottest on record, but access to cool places which mitigate the impact of extreme heat such as beaches, pools and malls are restricted in many parts of the country due to the pandemic.

The Covid-19 crisis has shone a light on years of patchy investment which has left 100 million Americans – including 27 million children – without access to a park close to home.

The study found that neighborhoods within a 10-minute walk of a park are up to 6F cooler than those further away.

“As cities struggle with extreme heat this summer, parks are one of the best ways for residents to find relief,” said Diane Regas, CEO and president of The Trust for Public Land, a national organization that has built thousands of parks and protected millions of acres of land.

“We all need and deserve parks – and all of the benefits they provide – all of the time. But during this period of compounded public health emergencies, unequal access to quality parks can be downright dangerous,” Regas added.

Heatwaves have been occurring more frequently since the mid-20th century, and there’s mounting consensus among climate scientists that dangerous bouts of high temperatures and humidity will become substantially more common, more severe, and longer-lasting without adequate action to curb global heating.

Surfaces in shade can be up to 45F cooler than those in the sun – and trees can also lower indoor temperatures, especially when shade covers parts of rooftops and windows.

In 2018, a landmark citizen-science project found large parks in Washington and Baltimore – especially those with dense trees and dark green vegetation – were up to 17F cooler than neighborhoods dominated by densely packed buildings and concrete which trap heat to create urban heat islands.