Parks and public spaces

Strategy overview

  • Dedicating public spaces to recreation and greenery: Parks and green space can improve physical and mental health, create opportunities for residents to interact with each other, and improve environmental conditions and climate resilience.
  • Encouraging physical, cultural, and social activities: Parks can be used as places for physical activity, particularly when sports or exercise equipment is installed. They can also serve as locations for community gardens or farmers markets, enhancing neighborhood access to healthy foods. Finally, public spaces are often used as venues for cultural activities, hosting classes, exhibitions, performances, and more.
  • Improving the environment: Parks improve air quality, reduce temperatures, and absorb rainwater, improving public health, mitigating extreme heat, and reducing the risk and severity of flooding in surrounding areas.
  • Addressing gentrification concerns: Parks often increase the value of land in nearby neighborhoods. Because of this, they can be significant accelerators of gentrification and displacement. New investments in parks and green spaces should include measures that reduce the risk of displacement and ensure that current residents benefit from new spaces, facilities, and programming.
Target Population
Community-wide
Key Stakeholders
Mayor or County Executive's Office, Parks Department, Planning Department, Nonprofit Partner, Program Evaluation Team

What evidence supports this strategy?

Strong

Meta-analyses of community spaces like gardens and parks suggest meaningful health, social, and environmental gains can be achieved from properly implemented programs. Further rigorous research is needed to 

  • A 2019 meta-narrative review of 38 urban green space interventions found significant positive environmental, health, wellbeing and social effects. Effective initiatives identified include greening of urban streets, sustainable drainage systems, greening of vacant lots, and park-based and greenway/trail interventions that paired changes with promotional campaigns.

  • A 2010 review of community garden case studies, interventions, and cross-sectional designs found youth gardening projects and programs were found to produce positive academic, dietary, and developmental outcomes, and overall community gardens were found to improve health outcomes and nutritional awareness.

  • A 2011 longitudinal study of 12 communities in Southern California found recreation programs relatively close to children’s homes were significantly and inversely associated with obesity.

How do parks and public spaces impact economic mobility?

  • Improving physical and mental health outcomes: Increasing access to parks and green spaces has a range of physical and mental health benefits, such as reduced obesity rates, reduced risk of mortality from disease, and reduced stress levels. Green and community spaces are also associated with stronger feelings of social cohesion, which can further support positive mental health outcomes. Research demonstrates that good health is a key lever in achieving upward economic mobility, including improved labor market outcomes and reduced catastrophic health care costs.
  • Addressing disparities in green space access: Research shows that public parks and green spaces are significantly rarer and less accessible in areas with lower socioeconomic status or a high share of Black or Hispanic residents. Such spaces have a range of positive outcomes for communities, including reductions in crime, increased perceptions of safety, and fewer pollutants being released in the area.

Best practices in implementation

  • Ensuring resident voices are reflected in development plans: When preparing to make new investments in parks and green spaces, leaders should engage heavily with community residents via listening sessions, co-creation sessions, and other public events. These activities help build community trust and buy-in, and they are necessary for ensuring that park design, features, and characteristics reflect the preferences of future users.
  • Partner with community groups: Schools, community-based nonprofits, and other neighborhood groups can be helpful advocates for new investments in parks and are crucial in ensuring that engagement efforts reach the broadest set of neighborhood residents.
  • Ensure current residents benefit from new investments: Because parks often enhance the value of surrounding land, leaders should be proactive in making investments and enacting policies that prevent displacement. Constructing new affordable housing, helping renters become homeowners, passing anti-displacement legislation, establishing value capture mechanisms, or establishing community land trusts can be helpful tactics, among others.

Evidence-based examples

Infrastructure initiatives to support biking, walking, and non-automobile options
Supportive neighborhoods
Strong
Exercise classes and other physical activities in a community space to boost health and social cohesion
Supportive neighborhoods Stable and healthy families
Proven
Plots of land owned by local governments, non-profits, or other groups that are dedicated as a gardening space for public use on a membership basis
Supportive neighborhoods Stable and healthy families
Strong
Combines physical activity opportunities and social support to build, strengthen, and maintain social networks that encourage positive behavior changes
Supportive neighborhoods Stable and healthy families
Proven
Weekly markets in public spaces offering fresh fruits and vegetables, nutrition education, and more
Supportive neighborhoods
Strong
Consists of expanding areas (and access to those areas) for physical activity in communities, such as exercise facilities or trails
Supportive neighborhoods Stable and healthy families
Proven