New Report: Transforming Asphalt Schoolyards into Public Greenspace is a “Right Now” Solution to Fix the Park Equity Gap in America

Community Schoolyards Projects Are Improving the Health, Equity, and Climate Resilience of Neighborhoods Across the Country

August 25, 2021
SAN FRANCISCO

The Trust for Public Land today announced the release of a new report, “Community SchoolyardsTM Projects: A Game-Changing Solution to America’s Park Equity Problem,” on how transforming underused asphalt schoolyards into vibrant public parks that stay open to neighbors after school and on weekends brings significant health, equity, and education benefits to students and
communities. Notably, opening all public schools to local communities during non-school hours would give nearly 20 million additional people in the U.S., including 5.2 million children, access to park space within a 10-minute walk of their home.

The report includes new data about outcomes and impact as well as on the ground expertise from the nearly 300 Community Schoolyards projects The Trust for Public Land has supported across the country through a participatory design process, working with communities to envision schoolyards that meet everyone’s needs. And the results have included beautiful outdoor spaces brimming with one-of-a-kind artwork, playgrounds, plenty of space to run around, and useful features for neighbors of every age.

As educators, policy experts, and families try to figure out how to bring American schoolchildren back to the classroom in a way that is safe and equitable, the report highlights how one of the best strategies for doing so is to look beyond the classroom – to the schoolyard. Teachers and school administrators report that attendance, behavior, and test scores improve following schoolyard renovations. But less than one percent of the 90,000 public schools in the country have schoolyards with public greenspace, and even less are open to the public after school and on the weekends.

“The schoolyard is an often-overlooked component of community infrastructure that is packed with potential,” said Trust for Public Land CEO and President Diane Regas. “Together, we can address the unhealthy state of the nation’s schoolyards so that students have access to opportunities for recreation, outdoor learning, and physical activity, setting them up for a lifetime of success. And transforming schoolyards into shared public parks is also a common-sense, cost-effective solution to America’s park- equity problem – filling a void for communities by providing new access to public greenspace.”

Students in low-income, racially diverse neighborhoods suffer the worst inequities when it comes to the quality of their schoolyards. Of the 100 largest cities in the United States, neighborhoods where residents predominantly identify as people of color have access to an average of 44 percent less park space per person than predominantly white neighborhoods. And roughly a third of the 50 million public school students in the country attend school in a heat island, which can be anywhere from 1.25 degrees to 20 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than the surrounding town or city. Among that group, 4.1 million students went to a school in a severe heat island of 7 degrees or more, while 1.1 million attend school in an extreme heat island of 10 degrees or more. In some communities, the heat anomaly exceeded 20 degrees. The research also showed significant differences in household income between some of the hottest and coolest parts of town. In areas with the most extreme heat, household income averages $59,000 compared to the coolest part of town, where the household income averages $91,000. And a similar pattern holds for schools serving students of color: the schools with the most students of color were a full degree hotter than the local average temperature in the surrounding community, while those with the most white students were a third of a degree cooler than the local average.

Experts at The Trust for Public Land combed through data from tens of thousands of districts from Nevada to New Jersey, examining water quality, urban heat, physical activity levels, mental health, and vulnerable populations to compile a list 45 large school districts in nine regions with at least 10,000 students that most urgently need – and could benefit from – the Community Schoolyards model, including Billings, Montana; Cheyenne, Wyoming; Cape Coral, Florida; and Augusta-Richmond County in Georgia. Addressing the inequities between low-income and high-income communities will require concentrated effort, prioritizing school districts according to need.

Visit https://www.tpl.org/community-schoolyards-campaign to access additional information and learn more about individual Community Schoolyards projects.

About the Trust for Public Land

The Trust for Public Land creates parks and protects land for people, ensuring healthy, livable communities for generations to come. Millions of people live within a 10-minute walk of a Trust for Public Land park, garden, or natural area, and millions more visit these sites every year. To support The Trust for Public Land and share why nature matters to you, visit www.tpl.org.

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