Low-income, park-poor communities in California’s North Orange County benefit from increased access to green space, says a recent policy report

The City Project’s findings show that safe parks and recreational areas encourage healthy living habits leading to a better quality of life.

Troy, Michigan
Originally released March 16, 2011

More-equitable investments of public and private resources are needed to improve access to parks, recreational facilities, and other green space for low-income, minority communities in south Orange County, California, says a recent policy report by The City Project.  Increased exercise, sports participation, and outdoor recreation in safe, natural areas can improve health and overall quality of life for residents, the report’s findings show.

The January 2011 report, “Healthy Parks, Schools and Communities: Green Access and Equity for Orange County,” is part of The City Project’s multiphase project to map and analyze park access and equity in nine southern California counties: Los Angeles, Orange, Ventura, San Bernardino, Riverside, San Diego, Kern, Santa Barbara, and Imperial. The aim is to provide up-to-date information about green-access issues to concerned citizens, community groups, government officials, planners, funders, and other decision makers. The Kresge Foundation supported the work.

>> Read the full policy report, “Healthy Parks, Schools and Communities: Green Access and Equity for Orange County.

In their research and analysis, the authors identify significant disparities in access to green space between North and South Orange County. Densely populated northern communities, where more than 52 percent of the county’s Latino population and nearly one-third of all its Asian and Pacific Islanders reside, have less green space and limited public transportation to parks and beaches. Stanton, one of the poorest northern communities, has a ratio of only 0.68 acres of green space per 1,000 residents compared with an overall countywide ratio of 41 acres per 1,000 residents. Southern communities, where more-affluent, disproportionately non-Hispanic white residents live, have lower population and development densities, more open spaces, and greater access to beaches and other park areas. 

The health implications of inadequate access to play and exercise areas are profound, according to the researchers. In 2008, the rate of overweight and obesity among children in Orange County ranged from 13.9 to 21.4 percent by age group. Santa Ana, a park-poor district with the county’s highest population of children, had the highest rate: 35.5 percent. Furthermore, 2008 testing of Orange County fifth-grade students revealed that 77 percent of Latinos, 66 percent of blacks, and 61 percent of Asians and Pacific Islanders failed to meet physical fitness standards, compared to 57 percent of white, non-Hispanics.

In Orange County, children of color living in poverty with no access to a car have the worst access to parks and green space,” says Robert Garcia, executive director and counsel of The City Project. “As a result, these children and their families disproportionately suffer from health problems related to a lack of physical activity, and have fewer opportunities to enjoy the benefits parks provide.

The policy report discusses the wide-ranging benefits associated with access to safe parks and recreational areas, including: increased physical activity; better physical and psychological health; enhanced community and cultural pride; economic vitality and “green” jobs creation; and environmental conservation.  It concludes with 10 recommendations for investing in park poor, low-income areas to help ensure that everyone, especially children and youth of color, benefits equally from the improvement and expansion of accessible green space. Among these recommendations are:

  • Prioritizing green-space projects based on community need.
  • Ensuring compliance with Civil Rights laws guaranteeing equal access to public resources.
  • Promoting the joint use of parks, schools, and pools to optimize scarce land, money, and public resources.
  • Prioritizing transportation and infrastructure projects that provide green access without a car.
  • Preventing and reversing the privatization of public green space.
  • Improving real and perceived park safety.

The City Project’s dedication to addressing environmental disparities and increasing access to natural places for urban communities reflects Kresge’s own commitment to promoting healthy environments for vulnerable populations,” says David D. Fukuzawa, Health Program director. The City Project is an initiative of Community Partners, a Los Angeles-based nonprofit, which received a two-year, $400,000 grant from Kresge in 2008 to expand its work in California.

About Us

The Kresge Foundation is a $3.1 billion private, national foundation that supports communities by building the capacity of nonprofit organizations in six fields: health, the environment, arts and culture, education, human services and community development. Kresge seeks to influence the quality of life for future generations by creating access and opportunity in underserved communities, improving the health of low-income people, supporting artistic expression, assisting in the revitalization of Detroit, and advancing methods for dealing with global climate change. In 2009, the Board of Trustees approved 404 awards totaling $197 million; $167 million was paid out to grantees over the course of the year. In June 2007, the foundation embarked upon a multi-year expansion of its grantmaking to better address society’s pressing issues. Central to this expansion are nine values, which now serve as the centerpiece of its grantmaking criteria. The values aim to advance low-income opportunity, promote community impact in ways most needed by residents, cultivate innovation and risk taking, support interdisciplinary solutions, foster environmental sustainability, and encourage diversity in board governance. For more information, visit www.kresge.org.