Parks are critical essential services for the health and well-being of people and communities, a fact that become even more evident during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, not all residents have equal access to parks and the benefits they provide, or equal amenities across parks in all areas of the community.
Addressing these inequities requires systemic attention, careful inventory documentation, and a sense of urgency. The recent permanent authorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund may be a major differentiator in establishing equity among parks, making long-overdue gains in health equity and racial justice in the built environment, and helping to improve the quality of life for residents in underrepresented communities.
Access to a great park shouldn’t have anything to do with the neighborhood a person lives in. As communities work within the guidelines of their State Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plan, they have the opportunity to seek the input of neighborhoods where change is needed most to guide where LWCF funding can help create park spaces that are healthy, safe, and equitable for all. As a reminder, every State must prepare and regularly update a SCORP to set forth an implementation program to meet the goals identified by its citizens and elected leaders.
All grant applications submitted must be in accordance with the priorities listed in its action plan. Each State also develops an Open Project Selection Process which contains a set of project-ranking selection criteria that allow scoring of proposals according to how well they meet the needs and priorities published in the SCORP.
In a February 2022 document outlining Criteria and Guidance for the Evaluation and Scoring of LWCF Proposals for Land, among the laws, Executive Orders, and Agency Goals used as criteria, Executive Order 13985, “Advancing Racial Equity and Support for Underserved Communities Through the Federal Government” states a comprehensive approach to advancing equity, defining “equity” as the “consistent and systematic fair, just, and impartial treatment of all individuals, including individuals who belong to underserved communities that have been denied such treatment, such as Black, Latino, and Indigenous and Native American persons, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders and other persons of color; members of religious minorities; lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ+) persons; persons with disabilities; persons who live in rural areas; and persons otherwise adversely affected by persistent poverty or inequality.”
In response to Executive Order 13985, the recreation criterion includes consideration of whether the project is located in an underserved area, as defined by the federal Social Vulnerability Index (SVI). This index uses 15 U.S. census variables to help local officials identify vulnerable, disadvantaged communities. Recreation points will be up to 20 points plus:
The Outdoor Recreation Legacy Partnership (ORLP) program is a crucial tool to advancing environmental justice and ensuring equitable access to nature and its benefits. The ORLP program, funded through the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), is a nationally competitive grant program that delivers funding to urban areas — jurisdictions of at least 50,000 people — with priority given to projects located in economically disadvantaged areas and lacking in outdoor recreation opportunities. To help create more equitable access to the outdoors, the ORLP grant program is open to more communities as the cap has been removed on the number of proposals states can submit on behalf of local jurisdictions and by increasing the maximum grant from $1 million to $5 million.
Studies[i] have shown that that African Americans, Latinos, and people who live in low-income, neighborhoods have less access to green spaces and engaging built environments within those spaces than people who live in more affluent or predominantly white communities. With the Land and Water Conservation fund, cities have the opportunity to correct these inequities by identifying the most highly impacted areas, engaging the community to identify the most desirable additions, adjusting fiscal allocations within general funds, expenditure plans, competitive grantmaking, public donation, etc. in order to create the matching fund component necessary to receive LWCF funding.
 See CDC/ATSDR's Social Vulnerability Index (SVI) for more information on the Index.