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Connecting the Environment & Climate to People through Parks

Residents Improving the Bronx River, New York City, NY

Residents Improving the Bronx River, New York City, NY

EPA administrator Lisa Jackson urged in the Huffington Post recently that environmentalism and climate change efforts ought to connect with a more diverse audience. She writes:

Over the years, environmentalism has largely been seen as an enclave of the privileged. The term “environmentalism” brings to mind pristine wilderness and wide-open landscapes. What doesn’t come to mind is an apartment building, a city block, or an inner city kid who has trouble breathing on hot days. Even issues like climate change are distant concerns for poor and minority citizens (and their advocates) who are struggling daily for equality in education, health care and economic opportunity.

It’s the environmental movement’s own inconvenient truth, and it has tragic consequences. Blacks die from asthma twice as often as whites, and have higher cancer mortality rates than any other group. Nearly 30 million Latinos — 72 percent of the US Latino population — live in places that don’t meet US air pollution standards. Native American homes lack clean water at almost 10 times the national rate……

We must also understand the role environmental threats play in what some consider more immediate issues, like the daily struggles on education, health care and the economy.

City parks are a pretty good place for this to happen, and where it already is happening on multiple fronts. Many of the members of the City Parks Alliance are involved in some way in connecting nature to underserved populations, from Washington Parks & People revitalizing Marvin Gaye Park (and the way people view the environment) in Southeast Washington, DC to organizations such as the Bronx River Alliance, working to clean up and improve the lives of residents living along the that waterway in New York City.

There’s organizations such as the Trust for Public Land that are increasing underprivileged kids access to nature and recreation in dense urban areas, such as the playground program in New York City or the partnership with Newark, N.J where historically 34 percent of the city’s children have been outside walking distance of a park or playground.

And there’s the work of groups such as the Urban Ecology Center to revitalize parks and educate kids about the environment by opening nature centers where they’re needed most.

The Milwaukee-based organization has opened two locations, one of which has helped to revitalize the city’s Riverside Park along the formerly ultra-polluted Milwaukee River and another in Washington Park, within an economically depressed neighborhood on the city’s west side.

The Center’s flagship program is the Neighborhood Environmental Education Project that brings over 15,000 students and teachers per year from 45 neighborhood schools to explore riparian corridors, hike trails, watch birds and investigate wildlife and their habitat. The idea is to educate neighborhood kids about nature so that they may visit on weekends with their families and into their adult lives. Roughly 85 percent of the students participate in the federal free and reduced lunch program in their schools. Without the programs of the center, these are kids that would otherwise have little contact with the nature that is literally in their neighborhoods’ backyard, as told to us by Beth Fetterley, Senior Director of Education and Strategic Planning at the Center when we visited this past summer.

These are small efforts, but they can make a big difference in selling the enviornment to a different audience.

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