Inequities in the quality of urban park systems: an environmental justice investigation of cities in the United States
A growing body of research shows affluent White neighborhoods have more acres of parks and more park facilities than low-income ethnic minority communities in many Global North cities. Most of these investigations focused on neighborhood-level differences and did not analyze broader inequities across cities. This is a particularly significant limitation in the U.S., where changes in the political economy of parks due to a reduced local tax base have led cities to compete against each other to secure park funding from national nonprofits and public agencies. To address this gap, we examined whether the quality of urban park systems – measured through The Trust for Public Land’s ParkScore – varies depending on a city’s median income and ethnic composition. Based on multivariate regressions in which we control for features of the urban fabric, we found U.S. cities with higher median incomes and lower percentages of Latino and Non-Hispanic Black residents have higher ParkScores than other cities. Some inequities also emerged for park coverage, park spending per person, and park facilities, with majority-Latino cities being particularly disadvantaged. These findings echo the results of neighborhood-level studies in Global North contexts, suggesting neighborhood-level inequities in park provision might scale up to inequities across cities. This study contributes to environmental justice theory and advocacy by demonstrating the importance of scaling up analyses of park provision to cross-city comparisons. Implications for landscape planning, public policy, and grant-making are discussed.