AuthorMcCaskill, Alexandria
  1. INTRODUCTION 778 II. GREEN SPACE AND ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE COMMUNITIES 779 A. Why Green Space is Important 780 B. Environmental Justice Communities' Lack of Green Space 781 C. The Gentrification Paradox 783 III. FEDERAL POLICY RESPONSES TO ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE COMMUNITIES 783 A. Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act 783 B. Justice40 Initiative 784 C. America the Beautiful Plan 785 IV. FEDERAL FUNDING FOR GREEN SPACES IN ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE COMMUNITIES 787 A. Outdoor Recreation Legacy Partnership Grant Program 788 1. Orlp Description and Requirements 788 2. Orlp Past Grantees 790 V. SHORTCOMINGS OF THE CURRENT FEDERAL GRANT BASED SYSTEM 791 A. EJ Communities' Core Struggles Are Not Addressed 791 B. The Federal Grant System Is Too Limited 794 VI. POLICY RECOMMENDATIONS 794 A. Create an Entirely New Non-Competitive Funding Program 796 B. Develop "Just Green Enough"Projects 796 VII. CONCLUSION 797 I. INTRODUCTION

    Access to green space, such as parks and sporting fields, is an incredibly important benefit for both individuals and communities. Unfortunately, this access is not equitably distributed among all communities. (1) Underserved environmental justice communities, often low-income communities of color, have significantly less access to green spaces than higher income white communities. (2) The federal government is aware of this problem and its current solution is to provide grants to fund green spaces in underserved communities. (3) However, the current federal grant-based funding system is ill-equipped to sufficiently provide those underserved communities with the benefits of green space.

    This Comment will explain why the grant system is a poor solution and provide alternative methods of properly funding equitable green spaces. Part II discusses the benefits of green space and the lack of access in environmental justice communities; Part III outlines how the federal government has addressed the importance of environmental justice; Part IV examines federal grant programs that support green spaces in underserved communities; finally, Parts V and VI critique the current grant-based system and provide policy recommendations on funding schemes that better address the needs of environmental justice communities. This Comment, while critical, is nevertheless hopeful that more suitable options for equitable green spaces are available.


    Environmental Justice (EJ) is directly related to the disparate availability of urban green spaces. This Part will give an overview of EJ and environmental justice communities (EJ communities), explain why green space is important, show EJ communities' lack of green space, and discuss the gentrification paradox. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), environmental justice is the "fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income with respect to the development, implementation and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations and policies." (4) EJ will be achieved when all people enjoy the "same degree of protection from environmental and health hazards," and "equal access to the decision-making process [creating] a healthy environment in which to live, learn, and work." (5) The EJ movement's central claim is that because of the effects of historical overt racism and acts of discrimination, along with supposedly race-neutral permitting and regulatory actions, environmental harm disproportionately affects lower income communities and communities of color. (6) EJ communities are communities that are overburdened and, "consequently, exposed disproportionately to environmental harms and risks." (7)

    1. Why Green Space Is Important

      Green space is incredibly important to the health and well-being of a community. Unfortunately, EJ communities have much less access to green spaces than high-income white communities. (8) Public green spaces include "parks and reserves, sporting fields, riparian areas like stream and river banks, greenways and trails, community gardens, street trees, and nature conservation areas, as well as less conventional spaces such as green walls, green alleyways, and cemeteries." (9) Some of the many benefits of green space include air and water purification, temperature reduction, groundwater replenishment, biodiversity and disease control, noise reduction, improved health, and opportunities for leisure and recreation. (10)

      Specific health benefits of green space include: "lower stress hormones, reduced teenage obesity, boosted concentration, alleviated depression and anxiety, lower blood pressure, and reduced overall mortality." (11) In fact, "every dollar spent on creating and maintaining park trails can save almost three dollars in health care" costs, a benefit "denied to the most economically distressed communities." (12) Parks also often serve as places to engage in physical activity, which has consistently been associated with enhanced health and reduced risk of mortality and chronic diseases. (13) Several studies have shown "significant impacts of green [space] on several measures of mood and self-esteem." (14) A Dutch study found that residents with "more green space near their homes were less affected by stressful life events than residents deprived of green space access," which suggests that green space reduces stress. (15) Additionally, parks and other green spaces often serve as communal gathering places, increasing the perception of safety and belonging: benefits denied to many EJ communities without green space. (16)

      Green spaces can also improve the heat and air conditions of a community. Metropolitan areas are often much warmer than surrounding rural areas due to the urban-heat island effect caused by cities' heat-absorbing surfaces, such as asphalt and concrete, and other human activities. (17) Over the last 30 years, extreme heat has been the deadliest form of weather; researchers have estimated that heat contributed to 5,600 deaths each year, on average, from 1997 to 2006. (18) Heat can lead to heat exhaustion and then, potentially, heat stroke. (19) Infants are particularly vulnerable; some studies have linked exposure to excessive heat to low birth weight, birth defects, and stillbirths. (20) Urban forests and green cover provide cooling and shade to an area, which can reduce temperatures by as much as ten degrees Fahrenheit and lower the risk of these heat-related illnesses. (21) Trees in urban areas also "reduce air pollution by absorbing certain airborne pollutants from the atmosphere." (22) Reducing pollution is important because residents of nature-deprived areas are statistically more likely to develop asthma or other immunocompromising illnesses. (23)

    2. Environmental Justice Communities' Lack of Green Space

      EJ communities often do not have access to the benefits of green space. Consistent patterns show a connection between the lack of tree canopy and historically underserved urban areas, on both national and regional scales. (24) Green spaces are much more abundant in wealthier and majority-white identifying neighborhoods. (25) "Seventy-four percent of communities of color in the [U.S.] live in nature-deprived areas, compared with just [twenty-three] percent of white communities." (26) Parks that serve a majority-nonwhite population are, on average, half as large and nearly five times as crowded as parks that serve a majority-white population. (27) A similar trend is visible in low-income communities, "[s]eventy percent of low-income communities across the country live in nature-deprived areas." (28) "Evaluating state-level data by income shows that, in almost two-thirds of states, low-income residents were most likely to live in nature-deprived areas." (29) Additionally, "[p]arks serving primarily low-income households are, on average, four times smaller... than parks [serving] high-income households." (30)

      This disparity in access to green spaces did not come about by accident. A study found that historical redlining policies are reflected in present-day, intra-urban heat differences between low-income communities of color and middle- to upper-income communities. (31) Redlining resulted in inexpensive land becoming ripe for the large-scale development of federally funded physical infrastructure, including housing complexes, highways, railway terminals, industrial or manufacturing sites, and major business centers. (32) Consequently, looking at national patterns, these areas labeled "hazardous" "exhibit quantitatively less coverage by tree canopy and more coverage by impervious [heat-absorbing and heat-radiating] surfaces." (33) This finding is likely connected to the fact that in nearly all locations analyzed, neighborhoods in formerly "hazardous" redlined areas that remain predominantly lower income and communities of color are at present hotter than the most favorable "Best" rated areas by, on average, 2.6 degrees Celsius. (34) Much work is needed to close the gap in green space investment between formerly redlined and "Best" neighborhoods.

    3. The Gentrification Paradox

      While closing this disparity in access to green space is incredibly important, if planners are not careful a gentrification paradox could be the unfortunate result of increased green space in EJ communities. Gentrification is ordinarily understood to mean "a process in which a neighborhood gains wealth and sees its population become more affluent, whiter, and younger." (35) As more green space becomes available in low-income and minority communities, better public health makes the neighborhood more attractive. (36) This increased desirability can lead to a rise in housing costs, which may result in gentrification. (37) The residents meant to benefit from the green space can be displaced, excluded, or both, by the higher cost of living. (38) Those who stay can become precariously housed, and those "displaced may be forced...

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