Growing Equity in City Green Space
As the COVID-19 pandemic stretched into the summer months of 2020, people around the world began to flock to outdoor green spaces in and around cities. For some, safe and socially distanced relief from indoor lockdowns came from picnicking in nearby parks, walking through tree-shaded neighborhoods, hiking along trails through the mountains and forests, or simply getting fresh air in their own backyards. However, not all city residents have the same access, geographically and historically, to nearby green space.
This tumultuous time has “put everything in really high relief about the importance of having a safe green space in every neighborhood,” said Sharon J. Hall, who researches the intersection of ecosystem management, environmental quality, and human well-being at Arizona State University (ASU) in Tempe. “We know that nature brings mental health benefits, physical benefits, spiritual and community connectedness, and all sorts of recreation benefits and cultural benefits, but not all people feel the same way about nature. There are populations that have really long histories, problems, and challenges with nature and what nature means to them.”
Developing new urban green space—places covered with grass, trees, shrubs, or other vegetation—and infrastructure that works with it is a priority in many cities these days. But experts agree that the solution is more complicated than simply planting more trees in certain spots. Done right, adding new green space in and around our cities can improve human health, revitalize ecosystems, and boost a region’s economy. Done wrong, it can worsen existing socioeconomic and ecological problems or even create new ones.