RESEARCH TO ACTION LABRE S E AR CH RE P O R TInvesting in EquitableUrban Park SystemsEmerging Funding Strategies and ToolsMatt EldridgeJuly 2019Kimberly BurrowesPatrick Spauster
AB O U T T HE U R BA N I NS T I T U TEThe nonprofit Urban Institute is a leading research organization dedicated to developing evidence-based insightsthat improve people’s lives and strengthen communities. For 50 years, Urban has been the trusted source forrigorous analysis of complex social and economic issues; strategic advice to policymakers, philanthropists, andpractitioners; and new, promising ideas that expand opportunities for all. Our work inspires effective decisions thatadvance fairness and enhance the well-being of people and places.Copyright July 2019. Urban Institute. Permission is granted for reproduction of this file, with attribution to theUrban Institute. Cover image via Inspiring/Shutterstock.
ContentsAcknowledgmentsivExecutive SummaryvIntroduction1Reviewing the Benefits of Parks2Parks, Equity, and Placemaking4The Role of Funding for Park Equity6Opportunities for Increasing Park Equity through Local ApproachesAdopting Equity Frameworks to Guide Park Investments and Priorities89Using Participatory Tools to Encourage Park Equity10Using Impact Assessments to Estimate the Broader Benefits of Parks11Integrating Park Development Priorities into Master Planning Efforts12Launching Park Campaigns for Political and Community Buy-In13Applying an Equity Lens to Funding for Urban Parks15Equitable Allocation of Traditional Funding Models16Leveraging Private and Civil Society Resources21Capturing the Broader Benefits of Parks27Exploring Innovative Funding Models36Concluding Thoughts44Appendix: Funding Models Profiled in Report49Notes52References59About the Authors64Statement of Independence65
AcknowledgmentsThis report was funded by Robert Wood Johnson Foundation through City Parks Alliance. We aregrateful to them and to all our funders, who make it possible for Urban to advance its mission.The views expressed are those of the authors and should not be attributed to the Urban Institute,its trustees, or its funders. Funders do not determine research findings or the insights andrecommendations of Urban experts. Further information on the Urban Institute’s funding principles isavailable at urban.org/fundingprinciples.The authors are extremely grateful to the following experts interviewed for this report: Todd Appel,Ben Cohen, and Carolyn duPont, Quantified Ventures; Andrea Azuma, Kaiser Permanente; LisaBaldinger and Eric Pfuehler, East Bay Regional Park District; Adrian Benepe and Pamela Soto, the Trustfor Public Land; Carolyn Buck, Freshwater Land Trust; Bobby Cochran, Willamette Partnership andPortland State University; Candace Damon, HR&A Advisors; Taylor Emerson and Phil Ginsburg, SanFrancisco Recreation and Parks Department; Gauri Gadgil, Chesapeake Bay Foundation; HappyHaynes, Denver Parks and Recreation; Damaris McGlone, Parks and Recreation Department ofBrownsville, Texas; Jayne Miller, Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy; and Maria Nardi, Parks, Recreation,and Open Spaces Department of Miami-Dade County.The report benefited from comments and perspectives of a 17-person national advisory panelcomposed of Stephen Burrington, Groundwork USA; Bobby Cochran, Willamette Partnership andPortland State University; Candace Damon, HR&A Advisors; Radhika Fox, US Water Alliance; RobertGarcia, The City Project; Brad Gentry, Yale University; Phil Ginsburg, San Francisco Recreation andPark Department; Happy Haynes, Denver Parks and Recreation; Jim Hunt, Eversource; LynneMcCormack, LISC; Damaris McGlone, Brownsville, TX Parks and Recreation; Jayne Miller, PittsburghParks Conservancy; Kevin Mills, Rails to Trails Conservancy; Wendy Muzzy and Taj Schottland, theTrust for Public Land; Victor Rubin, Policy Link; and Maggie Super Church, Conservation LawFoundation. We also thank Seema Kairam of the Trust for Public Land and Taylor Emerson of the SanFrancisco Recreation and Parks Department for providing comments.A special thanks to Catherine Nagel, Caryn Ernst, Tom McCann, and Julie Waterman of City ParksAlliance for leading the broader project this research sits within, reviewing drafts of our report, andproviding valuable insights and support. We also want to thank Stephen Burrington and Cate Mingoyaof Groundwork USA as partners on the broader project and for their feedback helping to shape ourreport. Finally, we would like to acknowledge and thank Brett Theodos and Mary Bogle, colleagues atthe Urban Institute, for serving as reviewers and advisors on the report.IVACKNOWLEDGMENTS
Executive SummaryUrban parks and green space provide significant tangible and intangible benefits for cities and theirresidents. Quality parks support mental and physical health, serve critical green infrastructurefunctions, contribute to economic development, act as links in transportation networks, host culturaland social activities, and help give communities a sense of place. In short, they are treasured communityassets. However, for residents and communities to take full advantage of these benefits, parks must beaccessible and high quality. This means parks must be safe, well maintained, and designed andprogrammed to meet community needs (with community input). Historically, low-incomeneighborhoods and communities of color have faced barriers in accessing quality parks. To bridge thesegaps and achieve “park equity” (all residents having reasonably equal access to quality parks), parkleaders and their government and community partners are increasingly focused on directing parkinvestments to communities in greatest need.Working from the premise that all residents deserve similar levels of access to good parks—notsimply as a matter of right but because of parks’ significant benefits for people’s health, theenvironment, and other outcomes—this report seeks to understand the multiple ways that communitiesare funding their park systems, paying special attention to parks serving low-income neighborhoods. Inour review, we place emphasis on (1) understanding how equity is approached in raising and distributingfunds and (2) elevating innovative, emerging models or approaches to funding parks, particularly thosethat capitalize on parks’ many benefits.As with other investments in public infrastructure, parks can contribute to higher land values fornearby properties. This can in turn price out existing residents and businesses, particularly thoserenting and leasing. Gentrification is a complex issue, and this report is not intended to highlightstrategies to prevent displacement. As we argue, however, park agencies and advocates have animportant role to play in working with communities, government officials, and other partners to identifyand mitigate the unintended consequences of park investments. Engaging communities as they plan andmake decisions is particularly important for ensuring existing residents benefit from park investments.Some park systems are leading the way in equity conversations, demonstrating how cities can adopt atransparent, data-driven, community-led approach to and framework for improving equitable allocationof public resources.Funding can be thought of in two ways: capital investments (acquiring and building new assets) andoperations and maintenance (taking care of existing assets). 1 Most of the emerging, innovative fundingopportunities are in the capital investment space; operations and maintenance will likely remainV
primarily funded through more traditional sources (e.g., appropriations and dedicated taxes). To boostfunding for operations and maintenance, parks might look to creatively manage existing funding anddemonstrate their cobenefits, doing so to forge effective, ongoing partnerships with other departmentsand sectors and to build a coalition of community advocates in support of parks.All funding models have equity implications: some are explicitly designed to address equity andmeaningfully engage all residents, some risk deepening inequities and fueling displacement, and mostdepend on how they are used. This report profiles several funding models (table ES.1).TABLE ES.1Park Funding Models Profiled in This ReportModelEquity considerationsBonds and voter referendaCan adopt explicit equity goals and criteria and can help redistribute resources toareas in greatest need, especially when paired with equity frameworksDedicated property taxesRaise reliable revenue for parks and help redistribute wealth but can also placeburden on lower-income property owners (without policies to cushion)Sales taxesRaise reliable revenue for parks but generally viewed as regressive instrumentbecause they place a greater proportional burden on lower-income consumersFees and earned revenueRation access to scarce assets and raise revenue from users with higher ability topay but can also present barriers to lower-income residents and worseninequitiesLand and waterconservation fundsProvide resources designed for projects in or adjacent to underservedneighborhoods and communities with lower-income residentsDeveloper fees, incentives,and concessionsIf well designed and enforced, can help ensure public benefit from privatedevelopmentCommunity and economicdevelopment programsUse federal funds to incentivize projects designed to spur growth and investmentin low-income neighborhoods (e.g., recreation facilities)Conservancies, friendsgroups, and publiccorporationsDirectly involve civic-minded citizens to advocate and fundraise for parks, andencourage good stewardship of community assets. Citywide systems can helpredistribute resources.Community ownershipEngages local community in the management of local park. If significantinvestments are needed, they may be beyond the capacity of the community tomanage.Philanthropic partnershipsOften have a pro-equity focus and can be used to engage community and developaccessible park assetsWater-quality andmanagement throughgreen infrastructureFlood management and improved water quality are important goals not just froma sustainability and technical perspective but also from an equity one. Integratinggreen infrastructure for these objectives into parks directly benefitsneighborhood properties.Health care cobenefitsParks and green space have beneficial impacts on mental health, obesity, andgeneral physical activity for residents in surrounding communities. Health systempartners can recognize and value these benefits through partnerships.VI
ModelEquity considerationsTransportation grantsDemonstrates parks’ role as important parts of transportation networks,especially as links within active commuting chainsClimate change anddisaster resiliencyprogramsCan mitigate the outsized negative effects of climate change and disasterrecovery on low-income neighborhoodsShared-use agreementswith schoolsCan be used to benefit resource-constrained communities by enabling efficientuse or reuse of public resourcesLand-value capturemodelsA way to enable land owners in a given community to pay for additional amenitiesin that area. May have limited application in communities without financialcapacity to pay for increased services and amenities and can disenfranchiserenters or commercial tenants.Land trustsCommunity land trusts are mostly established to protect affordable housing andconservation land trusts protect and manage neighborhood parks and greenspace. Advocates for each can work together to advance shared communitygoals.Impact bonds and pay forsuccessProvide an opportunity to engage new funders on environmental projects andencourage governments and community members to think strategically aboutpublic investments and desired outcomes.Brownfield conversionsUses external funds to transform polluted industrial land into green communityassets, potentially addressing environmental justice issues.Source: Authors’ analysis.Innovations this report uncovered are not individual funding sources but rather approaches, suchas how communities are using an equity lens to shape funding decisions; how park systems arestrategically leveraging new funding opportunities at the margins and helping to reallocate resources;and how partnerships, including those tied to the numerous social and environmental benefits of parks,are broadening parks’ base of support. Although this report highlights many potentially replicable proequity funding models and approaches, most funding innovations are occurring on the capitalexpenditure side, and local economic and fiscal contexts have significant implications for accessingfunding for operations and maintenance.Our research on how equity features in funding options and decisions has led to 11 broadtakeaways for park systems:1.Cities are finding ways to quantify and demonstrate the impact and broader benefits of parks,and they are using these to inform policy and build advocate coalitions.2.Federal funding opportunities have been an important source of funding for pro-equityprojects, but some sources are shrinking. States and foundations could fill some gaps.VII
3.Strategic use of partnerships can help share costs, raise in-kind support, and allow governmentsto reallocate park resources where they are needed.4.Blending and braiding different funding sources can help bridge capital gaps.5.Cities with limited fiscal capacity may continue to struggle to secure sustainable funding foroperations and maintenance. although adopting a strategy that embraces creativity, fosterscollaboration, and creates a shared vision can help.6.Large municipalities with rapid growth face particular challenges related to displacement andinequity but are uniquely positioned to tap private investment to fund parks and other publicassets.7.Traditional revenue streams (such as fees, dedicated property and sales taxes, and bondissuances) will likely remain an important source of funding for many park systems, especiallyfor operations and maintenance, but new opportuniti