Urban parks are more than pretty green spaces in an urban setting. They play a vital role in our health and our future. Parks contribute to cleaner air, cooler temperatures, lessening storms, healthier communities, educational opportunities and economic growth. As our cities and populations grow, parks are not only a vital connection to nature, but an essential component of our well-being.
Texas accounted for 32.4% of the total US population increase between 2019 and 2020, with growth primarily in the Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston, Austin, and San Antonio metropolitan areas. As Texas’ infrastructure and housing expand to meet this growth, conscious planning for parks and access to nature is more important than ever.
Parks connect urban Texans to nature by providing opportunities for physical activity that provide positive mental and physical health benefits, serve as gathering places that foster a connected community, and create outdoor classrooms that provide educational opportunities.
Parks create a mosaic of resilient ecosystems and green spaces that bring our cities to life. Trees in parks provide ecosystem services such as reducing the urban heat island effect by shading impervious surfaces such as parking lots and streets. The benefits of greening strategies can reach up to 15 degrees cooling in some areas on hot summer days. Trees also purify the air, provide habitat for wildlife, store carbon dioxide, and reduce the negative impacts of stormwater runoff.
Parks also stimulate the economy by creating jobs and generating economic value through sales taxes and increasing home values. Using a state park as an example, Cooper Lake State Park, near the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex, generates 23 jobs with an economic value of $ 1.4 million and $ 33,000 in sales tax revenue. Cooper Lake State Park receives more than 112,000 visits each year, 54% of which are from residents of North Texas.
While city parks offer a myriad of benefits, the location and access to these parks is also a key component in ensuring that Texas’ growth is positive for all in the future. The Texas Trees Foundation conducted an urban heat island and urban canopy study in Dallas and found that the the current canopy is 30%. However, the Dallas tree canopy is not evenly distributed, leaving some areas with a high percentage of canopy and others with very little.
According to American Forests, a tree cover map in almost all US cities is also a revenue map. Typically, low-income neighborhoods do not have as many trees, and communities that need tree cover the most tend to be those with the highest unemployment rates. Their Tree equity assessment tool allows you to see the fairness score of trees in US cities
Elva Yañez, in an essay for The Prevention Institute, describes why we need equity in parks and how to promote it. “Inequalities in access to parks between neighborhoods are the result of policies, laws and practices – some deliberate, others inadvertent, some historical, some ongoing – which have separated communities along racial, ethnic lines. and socioeconomic. And it’s no accident that communities that don’t get their fair share of parks and green spaces often have more than their fair share of polluting land uses and highways. But because we didn’t get to this point by accident, we can legislate, fund, plan, and design our exit.
Many organizations across Texas and Dallas-Fort Worth are focused on managing parks and public green spaces to support Texans’ health and healthy natural resources. These organizations lead the way with native habitat and landscapes, educational signage, water conservation, collaborative partnerships, sustainable infrastructure, proactive planning and attention to access. It is important that we support these organizations, collaborate across sectors, and share best practices and lessons learned to meet the demands of our growing population and to tackle systemic issues such as equitable access.
Our organization, Texan by nature, exists to advance conservation and accomplishes this mission by bringing conservation and business together. Through our impact-driven programs and our network of over 100 conservation partners, we have worked with organizations leading the way in improving parks, and we believe these examples serve as inspiration.
● The Texas Trees Foundation’s Cool School Neighborhood Parks is a collaborative partnership benefiting ISD Dallas students and the local community.
● Trinity River Crew is a joint program of the Conservation Corps of Groundwork Dallas and Trinity Park Conservancy that provides meaningful and paid conservation work experience, education, leadership skills and professional development training to high potential youth in historically marginalized areas on along the Trinity River.
● Tarrant Regional Water District and North Texas Municipal Water District artificial wetlands Support a clean and reliable water supply, cleaning the water nature’s way.
● George W. Bush Presidential Center Native Texas Park is a 15-acre urban park featuring native Texas prairie.
● Klyde Warren Park is a 5.2 acre bridge park with sustainable landscaping, providing an oasis for monarchs.
● Exploration Green Conservancy is a former golf course converted into a 200-acre urban greenspace and stormwater retention site in Houston.
Urban parks are essential to our future, our natural resources, our health and our economic growth. Supporting park development and equitable access will ensure Texas thrives for many generations.
Joni Carswell is Managing Director of Texan by Nature.
Taylor Keys is Program Manager for Texan by Nature.
They wrote this column for The Dallas Morning News.
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