Combating Systemic Racism in Access to Nature, Open Spaces, and Parks and Recreation Resources

Monika Stodolska, Kimberly Shinew, Corky Emberson, and Elsie Hedgspeth

Due to historical and contemporary systemic racism and exclusionary practices, people of color have had unequal opportunities to access natural environments and recreation resources at the community and national levels, making them less likely to obtain the same benefits of nature and recreation as non-Hispanic Whites. In 2016-2017, Drs. Stodolska and Shinew worked collaboratively with the Urbana Park District (UPD) to understand how they could better serve the needs of African American, Latinx, and Asian users and non-users of local park and recreation resources. As a result of their study’s findings, over the past four years the UPD implemented a number of steps that included the establishment of the new Outreach and Wellness Division, staff diversity trainings, development of a new action plan, restoration of local parks, new programs delivered on-site in low-income underserved neighborhoods, and a new “You Belong Here” campaign. This study, funded by the Call to Action to Address Racism & Social Injustice Research Program and the Urbana Park District provides a formal evaluation of the steps undertaken by the UPD to better serve their residents of color, identify additional strategies UPD can employ to engage local residents of color, and create a road map for other public recreation and natural resource agencies across the U.S. on how to address systemic racism in access to nature and recreational resources among people of color.