The bill would provide $500 million in public park investment nationwide and, its backers said, would also help address racial and class inequity in terms of access to public space. The legislation reserves half the funding for low-income populations that historically have not had easy access to neighborhood parks.
Owen Franklin, Pennsylvania director of The Trust for Public Land, the group that organized the petition, said the funding is needed in Pennsylvania, with so many more people spending time outdoors since the pandemic.
“It’s a very intuitive argument to make,” Franklin contended. “To say to leaders of our cities and towns across the Commonwealth that investments in parks and open space are needed from Congress, in order to ensure that the benefits that we’ve all prioritized over the past year and a half more than ever before can endure, and provide for generations.”
Nine in 10 Pennsylvanians said they participated in outdoor activities during the pandemic, according to the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.
In Duquesne, in Allegheny County, there are 900 abandoned properties and vacant lots in the city’s 2.5 square miles. It’s considered a financially distressed community under Pennsylvania’s Act 47.
Nickole Nesby, mayor of Duquesne, said investing in parks could benefit the city.
“We are hoping that once this legislation is actually funded, that monies could be used to improve the quality of life,” Nesby explained. “For not only our children, our next generation, but also for our seniors.”
Nesby added the city needs funds to improve playgrounds and for a community space for older residents.
Investing in outdoor space could have important psychological impacts, too.
Steve Stroman, public policy advocate for the Pennsylvania Recreation and Park Society, believes COVID-19 proved parks are essential for public health.
“If you live in a city, and you’re on the 14th floor of an apartment building, you’re home with your kids, those urban parks have been tremendous places, for both your kids and for parents as well,” Stroman asserted.
The Parks, Jobs, and Equity Act was introduced in the U.S. House in March, and the Senate in June.