Guest Commentary by Kelly Bruno, President & CEO of National Health Foundation
As the President & CEO of National Health Foundation (NHF), a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the health of under-resourced communities facing systemic barriers to wellness, I see how our built environment effects the health and wellness of whole communities. Many neighborhoods in L.A., particularly low-income communities of color, have been under-funded and under-resourced for decades, resulting in inadequate park and green space.
According to a 2020 report from the Hispanic Access Foundation and the Center for American Progress, communities of color are three times more likely than white communities to live in “nature deprived” areas with little or no access to parks, paths and green spaces. This is due to generations of racist housing policies such as redlining, which forced Black and Brown Americans into certain neighborhoods, all while paving over those communities with highways and high-polluting industrial plants.
Promoting Access to Outdoors
This lack of access to parks and green spaces can be detrimental for our mental and physical health, but it has proved deadly during the COVID-19 pandemic. While it’s too soon to confirm direct correlations, experts say it’s likely that a relationship exists between a lack of access to outdoor spaces and the disproportionately high COVID-19 infection rates among Black and Latinx communities.
To combat this barrier to improve health outcomes, NHF dedicated itself to uncovering and challenging the systemic exclusion of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) from accessing outdoor spaces in the Greater Los Angeles region. When a countywide safer-at-home order encouraged Angelenos to stay away from gatherings and venture into the great outdoors, NHF worked with long-time partner, Park Equity Alliance, and focused its public education efforts on highlighting the racial disparity in outdoor accessibility.
As a powerful advocate for policies and programs that remove entrenched barriers faced by communities of color in accessing quality outdoor spaces, NHF played a vital role in ensuring $22 million per year in funding will be made available to eliminate park inequities in park-poor, low-income neighborhoods through its work with Park Equity Alliance.
NHF and its 42-member Pico Union resident leader group—Communidad de NHF—also kicked off a five-year Beautification and Street Improvement Plan campaign with the Department of Public Works to create better streets in the Central L.A. neighborhood. Since launching its community initiatives in Pico Union, NHF has engaged more than 3,000 Pico Union residents to unite the neighborhood in pursuit of improved health.
As a passionate voice for park equity, NHF is proud to be a client of Cerrell, whose experience advocating for California’s parks and green spaces dates back decades. In addition to working on behalf of the California State Parks Foundation, an independent, member-supported nonprofit that mobilizes a diverse network of Californians to be active champions for our state parks, Cerrell guided the Los Angeles County Department of Parks and Recreation’s development of a Countywide Parks and Recreation Needs Assessment. The assessment quantified the critical need for additional parks and recreation resources in L.A. County, and reframed our understanding of green and open spaces as key infrastructure in our communities. One key takeaway from the final report found that 51% of L.A. County’s population lives more than a half mile away from a park.