Which Policies Will Move The Needle?
In 2021, with a forward commitment to equity, TPL added equity measurements into our annual ParkScore® survey as a way to help cities understand their current park equity conditions, establish baselines, and measure progress.
While policy change sounds like a simple solution, we know it’s not. Many of the changes that are needed to improve Lexington’s or any city’s park equity score require long-term solutions to undo the root causes of disparities in access to high-quality parks. The TPL 10-Minute Walk program is taking the long view.
We’ve heard from our more than 300 10-Minute Walk mayors, local leaders, and decisionmakers that they need more clarity, resources, and support to understand which policies are right for their cities.
In partnership with a multidisciplinary research team at the College of Charleston’s Joseph P. Riley Jr. Center for Livable Communities, we’re creating a framework of eight policy categories—Parks Needs Assessments, Community Engagement, Public Finance, Maintenance, Shared Use, Land Use, Connectivity, and Externalities and Anti-Displacement—aimed at increasing park access. Currently, the team is using the framework to study park policies in cities around the U.S., with trends and promising models to be identified in a forthcoming report.
“We are hearing enthusiasm for this project from the city leaders we have talked to over the course of this project,” says Kendra Stewart, professor of political science and director of the Joseph P Riley Jr. Center for Livable Communities. “Many cities want to increase park access and reduce park inequity, and they are looking for options that best meet the needs of their own communities. This research will help cities navigate the complex landscape of park policy by organizing policy approaches and showcasing examples from cities across the United States.”
In addition to the framework-guided research, TPL has selected a cohort of six cities, including Lexington, to test local, on-the-ground solutions through a first of its kind accelerator program. Trust for Public Land, cross-sector partners, and other experts will help the cities field-test policy strategies in order to unravel deeply rooted inequities.
Findings from the policy framework survey and the accelerator program will support scaling the model to additional cities and will serve as a foundation for a forthcoming “Park Equity Policy Agenda” and other resources, such as model policies and direct assistance . This effort will illuminate the current nationwide park policy landscape, and TPL will eventually create a menu of actionable, data-supported policy options for cities.
In Lexington, partners at CivicLex and SeedLeaf, a community gardening organization, are tapping into Trust for Public Land’s 10-Minute Walk Park Equity Accelerator program to help them realize their vision.
Key to the success of the Imagine Lexington plan and the zoning reform initiative is strong community engagement, which TPL’s Common Ground Framework defines as “the practice of building relationships with key community members in ways that earn trust, legitimize community voices, nurture grassroots collaboration and stewardship, build community capacity, and center the community in decision-making on issues that affect community members’ daily lives and environments.”
By bringing together residents and members of local government to engage in conversations about parks and to make sure that the decisions about park improvements, development, and programming meet the needs of residents, Lexington is taking steps to reverse the impact of decades of inequitable investment.
“In Lexington, like most places, important policy decisions that affect many are often influenced by small, informed, and well-connected groups,” said Megan Gulla, Director of Programs at CivicLEx, one of the Park Equity Accelerator partners. “With TPL’s support through the Park Equity Accelerator, Lexington, and communities around the country are creating more accessible and inclusive mechanisms for resident engagement with, and involvement in, policy and decision-making processes related to parks and green spaces. It’s neither quick nor easy work, but it’s essential if we want to build communities that meet the needs of all residents.”
Download: Key Park Equity Policies: Toward a 10-Minute Walk Park Equity Policy Checklist