Natural public places, including parks, school fields, rivers, beaches, forests, mountains, and trails, are a necessary part of any urban infrastructure for healthy, livable communities. The City Project recommends the following principles to ensure that everyone—especially people of color and others in low-income communities—benefits equally from infrastructure investments in natural public places. These principles are discussed in detail in our Policy Report Healthy Parks, Schools, and Communities: Mapping Green Access and Equity for the Los Angeles Region (2006).
Principle 1. Infrastructure decisions involving natural public places have widespread impacts on health, housing, development, investment patterns, and quality of life. The process by which those decisions are reached, and the outcomes of those decisions, must be fair and beneficial to all.
Principle 2. Infrastructure investments should be guided by a regional vision for a comprehensive web of communities, parks, schools, beaches, forests, rivers, mountains, and transit to trails to achieve results that are equitable; promote human health, the environment, and economic vitality; and serve diverse community needs.
Principle 3. Infrastructure areas should be planned together in complementary rather than conflicting ways to serve health, education, and human service needs; to fulfill critical governmental and societal responsibilities; and to produce equitable results. For example, green parks can be used as flood control basins and can clean water and mitigate polluted storm water runoff. Shared use of schools and parks can provide places and policies for physical activity and healthy eating to improve health. Transit can provide access to trails.
Principle 4. Budget priorities within infrastructure areas should be thoroughly assessed through an equity lens. For example, there is a need for both active and passive recreation in natural public places. Urban and wilderness park advocates should work together rather than at cross purposes. Schools must develop the body and mind of the child through physical education as well as academics.
Principle 5. Employment and economic benefits associated with building and maintaining infrastructure, including parks, schools, and other natural public places, should be distributed fairly among all communities. Local jobs with livable wages should go first to local residents. Job training should be provided for those who need it to qualify for jobs. There should be a level playing field for small, women, and minority business enterprises. Affordable housing should be provided near parks and schools that are revitalizing neighborhoods, in order to prevent gentrification.
Principle 6. Revenues to support infrastructure improvements, including parks, schools, and other natural public places, should be collected and allocated fairly to distribute the benefits and burdens of these projects. Resources for parks and recreation should be allocated to overcome the continuing pattern and history of unfair park, school, and health disparities.
Principle 7. Infrastructure decision-making should be transparent and include mechanisms for everyone to contribute to the planning and policymaking process. For example, citizenship, voter registration, and get out the vote drives can engage new voters – young people, immigrants, and others — to elect officials and decide ballot measures. Full environmental impact reports and statements, and health impact assessments, for parks and schools should be required to provide full and fair information and enable effective public participation. Audits and reports on bond funds and park agencies can illuminate inequities and provide blueprints for reform. Community oversight bodies should review infrastructure investments. Litigation is a profoundly democratic means of providing access to justice and the fair distribution of public resources, particularly for traditionally disempowered communities. Public officials and foundations should recognize this and support and fund such litigation. The Cornfield and Taylor Yard would not be parks but for litigation, and those victories spawned the diverse movements that have produced additional public land and resource bond victories.
Principle 8. Standards for measuring equity and progress should be articulated and implemented to hold agencies accountable for building healthy, livable communities for all.
Principle 9. In making infrastructure investments and decisions involving natural public places, recipients of federal and state funds should proactively comply with federal and state laws designed to achieve equal access to public resources, including Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and its implementing regulations, California Government Code 11135, and the California statutory definition of environmental justice. Compliance with civil rights and environmental laws should be combined.
Principle 10. Government agencies and the philanthropic community must dedicate resources to enable community based organizations to serve their communities and actively participate in infrastructure planning and investments.