Hickenlooper, Padilla Introduce Bill to Create New, More Accessible Community Parks

Parks, Jobs and Equity Act invests $500 million to help states and cities build more parks in underserved areas

Washington, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senators John Hickenlooper and Alex Padilla introduced the Parks, Jobs, and Equity Act, a bill to create a new, one-time $500 million federal grant program to help state and local governments build new parks and greenspaces to increase access to the outdoors in underserved communities.

One-in-three Americans, including 28 million kids, lack access to nature near their homes, and the problem is heavily concentrated in communities of color. In Colorado, 56 percent of people of color live in “nature deprived” areas compared to just 34 percent of white Coloradans.

“Our public parks belong to everyone, but they aren’t always accessible,”said Senator Hickenlooper. “Our bill will create more equitable parks to give Colorado kids better access to nature.”

“Parks have served as a lifeline since before, but especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, but too many of our nation’s parks are neglected and inaccessible to low-income communities and communities of color,” Senator Padilla said. “We must reinvest in parks to ensure access to parks and green spaces is equitable for all. The Parks, Jobs, and Equity Act will fund new parks and park upgrades, create much-needed jobs, and stimulate local economies.”

In addition to Hickenlooper and Padilla, the bill is cosponsored by Senators Tammy Duckworth, Richard Blumenthal and Chris Van Hollen. Full text of the bill is available HERE.

“We need to close the park equity divide that contributes to unacceptable disparities in health, climate resilience, and prosperity for too many people in the United States,” said Diane Regas, President and CEO of The Trust for Public Land. “The Parks, Jobs, and Equity Act will help invest resources in communities that need it most. I’m grateful for the leadership of Senators Hickenlooper and Padilla, as well as Representatives Barragan, Neguse and Turner.”

In May, The Trust for Public Land released a groundbreaking new report, Parks and an Equitable Recovery, that details significant inequities in park space and distribution. Across the 100 most populous U.S. cities, residents of neighborhoods where most people identify as Black, Hispanic and Latinx, Indigenous and Native American, or Asian American and Pacific Islander have access to an average of 44 percent less park space per capita than residents of neighborhoods that are predominantly white. Residents of low-income neighborhoods have access to 42 percent less park space than residents of high-income neighborhoods.

The Parks, Jobs and Equity Act will provide a much-needed investment in urban parks across the country and will be a welcome relief as park and recreation professionals and the agencies they represent continue to recover from the severe impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Elvis Cordova, vice president of public policy and advocacy for the National Recreation and Park Association. “Urban parks contribute to equitable economic development, providing quality jobs and workforce development opportunities in local communities. In addition, these parks can support vital climate resiliency practices that benefit urban areas on a holistic level. NRPA and our membership of more than 60,000 park and recreation professionals are thankful to Senators Padilla and Hickenlooper for introducing this important legislation and further displaying their commitment to achieving equitable access to quality parks and green spaces for all.”

“City Parks Alliance applauds Senators John Hickenlooper (D-CO) and Alex Padilla (D-CA) for introducing the ‘Parks, Jobs, and Equity Act.’ This bill will improve outdoor recreation opportunities, provide job opportunities, and engage and empower youth in underserved communities. Expanding access to city parks for all helps to build more resilient and equitable communities and must be at the heart of our national recovery effort,” said Catherine Nagel, Executive Director, City Parks Alliance.

“Next 100 Colorado is working to establish a more just and inclusive parks and public lands system. We celebrate the introduction of the Senate version of the Parks, Jobs and Equity Act, which will ensure more equitable access to opportunities for careers in the outdoors and the benefits of outdoor experiences, from Cortez to Fort Morgan. We’re proud that two of Colorado’s elected officials, Sen. John Hickenlooper and Rep. Joe Neguse, are champions for these efforts. Together, we can create outdoor spaces that reflect the faces of our country, respect all cultures, and actively engage all people,” said Next 100 Colorado.

The global pandemic and resulting economic crisis brought by COVID-19 has made evident the deep racial and economic inequities that persist in every aspect of life. For millions of Californians who have sheltered in place over the last year, nature and parks have provided a space to stay healthy and active, support their mental health, and meet with loved ones. Access to nature has taken on a renewed importance; it plays a critical role in reducing the chronic health problems that put people at increased risk of serious complications or death from COVID-19. The Parks, Jobs and Equity Act will help address patterns of disinvestment that result in environmental injustice in underserved communities’ access to nature. We commend Senator Hickenlooper and Senator Padilla for their commitment to meet the needs of Americans throughout our nation,” said Belén Bernal, executive director, Nature for All.

“Thank you to Senator Padilla and Senator Hickenlooper for bringing this bill forward in the Senate. For communities such as Boyle Heights and East Los Angeles, where parks are either scarce or found too far away, and where communities have been heavily impacted by the pandemic, funding in parks and jobs would bring a much needed and deserved investment in our BIPOC communities. The Parks, Jobs, and Equity Act would help provide the funds needed to help our communities recuperate from the pandemic, as well as address historic inequities, and provide the resources needed to increase and improve access to green spaces that give our community residents a place to exercise, relax and have overall healthier lives and environments,” said Itzel Flores Castillo Wang, Community Organizer, Promesa Boyle Heights.

“The Parks, Jobs, and Equity Act represents a substantial investment in parks, which over the past year plus, have demonstrated their unquestionable importance to our health and wellbeing. The benefits of this investment will be enjoyed long into the future and certainly well beyond the challenges of today,” said Luis Villa, Executive Director for Latino Outdoors.

“Public lands and waters — from neighborhood parks to national parks – should be for the enjoyment of all,” said Lise Aangeenbrug, executive director of Outdoor Industry Association. “Yet, more than 100 million Americans do not live within walking or biking distance of a park. This legislation is designed to ensure everyone, regardless of geography, background, or identity, has meaningful opportunities to connect with the outdoors. An investment in local parks, playgrounds, trails, and green spaces will bolster mental and physical health, invigorate the $788 billion outdoor recreation economy, and encourage new participants to continue to get outside. Above all, it will do so inclusively by focusing on under-served communities. The outdoor industry is grateful to Senators Hickenlooper and Padilla for their leadership on introducing this important measure.”

“Over the past year, we have seen the importance of our public lands and waters for all people to explore, learn, and, especially, heal in the outdoors. In light of the growing climate crisis, the Continental Divide Trail Coalition (CDTC) applauds the introduction of the Parks, Jobs, and Equity Act to secure equitable access to all the outdoors has to offer, including careers, connections, and community. The leadership shown by Senators Hickenlooper and Padilla in listening to people on the ground that would directly benefit from these investments is a model for locally-driven, community-centered stewardship of our lands and waters. This investment in greenspaces and jobs will help ensure that places like the Continental Divide Trail remain equitably accessible and resilient, now, and for future generations,” said Teresa Martinez, Executive Director at the Continental Divide Trail Coalition.

“Everyone deserves access to the benefits of the outdoors, including improved health and more resilient communities. The COVID-19 pandemic made it clear those benefits are not equitably accessible. The Parks, Jobs, and Equity Act is a critical step towards providing our communities with a much-needed economic boost and helping to ensure the right of every community to a direct connection to nature and a sustainable, healthy climate,” said Jackie Ostfeld, Sierra Club’s Outdoors for All campaign director.

“The Outdoors Alliance for Kids applauds Senator Hickenlooper for championing the Parks, Jobs, and Equity Act,” said Jayni Rasmussen, Sr. Campaign Representative for the Outdoors Alliance for Kids (OAK). “The evidence is overwhelming that spending time in nature is hugely beneficial to the mental and physical health of young people, but this past year made it clear that not all young people have equal access to those benefits. By targeting investment in urban park projects that benefit children, youth and families who have been disproportionately denied access to the outdoors, this legislation is an historic and imperative response to the inequities highlighted during the pandemic,” Jayni Rasumussen, Senior Campaign Representative, Outdoors Alliance for Kids (OAK).

“With more than 80% of Black Americans living in urban areas, Outdoor Afro understands the critical role local parks, playgrounds, trails, and green spaces have to communities across the country for play and work. For more than a decade, Outdoor Afro has strengthened Black American connections to nature and leadership through our networks, now in 56 cities nationwide.  By coupling investments in green spaces where they’re needed most with job creation, we believe this legislation will increase nature-based access, participation, and quality experiences for more people close to home,” said Rue Mapp, founder and CEO, Outdoor Afro.

“The International Mountain Bicycling Association (IMBA) is thrilled the Parks, Jobs, & Equity Act is being introduced in the Senate by Senators Hickenlooper and Padilla. This legislation sends a clear message that investment in outdoor recreation is vital for communities: it gives our neighbors access to beautiful outdoor spaces while creating local jobs. Our organization focuses on more trails close to home, and this legislation will allow mountain bikers to create more trails and outdoor opportunities for everyone, in communities across the country,” said David Wiens, Executive Director, International Mountain Bicycling Association.

At REI Co-op, we believe time outside is fundamental to a life well lived. Enhancing access to quality local parks helps remove barriers to outdoor recreation and the many health and community benefits that come with it. The Parks, Jobs, and Equity Act will ensure all communities have access to quality outdoor experiences, which helps advance equity, health and wellness, and the economy. We are proud to support this critical piece of legislation that will bring us one step closer to ensuring the outdoors is truly for everyone,” said Marc Berejka, Director of Community & Government Affairs, REI Co-op.

“Centering racial equity in policy is imperative because Black, brown, and Indigenous communities, including children, have been harmed by generations of racialized disinvestment. Building a different future where all kids have a safe, joyful place to play is as important as tackling disparities in housing, education and health.  We appreciate Senators Hickenlooper and Padilla for their leadership on the Parks, Jobs, and Equity Act, which will provide valuable infrastructure investments to under-resourced communities and help advance racial equity in access to quality outdoor recreation,” said Lysa Ratliff, CEO of KABOOM!

Specifically, the Parks, Jobs and Equity Act would establish a federal grant program administered by state and local governments, in order to ensure park investments happen quickly and respond to local priorities. All cities with a population of over 30,000 would be eligible without having to match funds received, allowing even the hardest hit cities and towns suffering from declining revenues to invest in new parks. 

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