With Earth Day right around the corner and summer fast approaching, many of us here in the northern hemisphere are enjoying the green spaces in our lives just a little bit more lately. As the weather warms up, we tend to appreciate our parks — from the local park on the corner to the sprawling landscape of national parks — more and more.

It’s important to remember that access to nature is not just a luxury, but a necessity for the health and well-being of communities. However, disparities in access — particularly among people of color and linguistic minority communities — persist, perpetuated by historic redlining practices (to name just one factor).

Several studies have shown a direct correlation between access to nature and health, highlighting the urgency to address these disparities. In a 2016 study, researchers found that folks who lived in regions with denser tree canopy tend to be healthier than those without access to such green space; likewise, a 2018 study showed that converting dirty, trash-ridden vacant land to a clean green space with trees and grass reduced feelings of depression among the local community.

Initiatives to improve public health through green spaces must keep linguistic minorities and people of color in mind. In this blog post, we’ll take a look at how five different government programs are addressing disparities in access to green spaces for linguistic minority communities, bridging the gap through language access.

The Importance of Equitable Green Spaces

The benefits of green spaces are clear — however, people of color, immigrants, and people with limited English proficiency (LEP) often have historically had less access to these spaces than native-born English speakers.

In 2020, the Center for American Progress and the Hispanic Access Foundation reported significant racial and economic disparities in access to green space. Black and brown communities were found to be three times more likely than white communities to be “nature-deprived,” meaning that they had less access to nearby forests, wetlands, streams, and other natural places. According to the report, more than 76% of low-income communities of color were nature-deprived.

By making an effort to develop green spaces and improve access to equitable green spaces, we can make strides toward improving public health in vulnerable communities. It’s important to make sure that these efforts to improve access to green space also take into account our nation’s population with LEP, who face unique challenges compared to English-speaking minorities.

Here are five government-led initiatives to develop equitable green space that are prioritizing the needs of linguistic minorities in their community.

Rhode Island PVD Tree Plan

The city of Providence, Rhode Island boasts a tree canopy that covers roughly 27% of the city — but when you zoom in on communities of color, that number declines sharply. So, the city is making an effort to improve tree coverage, and making sure people of color are involved in planning the initiative from the get-go. By involving community members of color who’ve spearheaded multilingual outreach, they ensure that historically marginalized communities have a voice in increasing canopy coverage.

Parks and Rec Chattanooga’s Outreach and Engagement

Effective engagement is key to creating inclusive, equitable green spaces. Parks and Rec Chattanooga has placed an emphasis on involving multilingual communities, in an effort to build trust with community members who don’t speak English. In the agency’s outreach and engagement efforts, they make an effort to engage community members in the language that they’re most comfortable in, whether that’s Spanish or Q’anjob’al, allowing community members to feel heard regardless of their English level.

Get Started! A Guide to USDA Resources for Historically Underserved Farmers and Ranchers

The USDA and other government agencies partnered up to create this 40-page guide for historically underserved farmers and ranchers. Not only did they emphasize resources for farmers and ranchers from low-income and culturally underrepresented backgrounds — they also made sure to communicate those resources in several different languages other than English.

The guide is available in seven languages and provides readers with resources such as maps, educational workshops, inclusive language materials, facilitating greater participation and understanding among linguistic minority communities.

The Urban Wildlife Conservation Program

The Urban Wildlife Conservation Program by the Department of Fish and Wildlife focuses on creating green spaces within urban areas, making nature more accessible to all residents. By prioritizing urban communities, this program promotes equity in outdoor recreation and education opportunities.  

Communities with limited English proficiency and communities of color tend to be concentrated in urban areas. Initiatives like this make nature more accessible to folks who live in cities, allowing them to visit green spaces near where they live, rather than having to travel far outside of the city.

Texas Parks and Wildlife’s Project WILD/ Growing Up WILD Workshops

Educational workshops like Texas Parks and Wildlife’s Project WILD/ Growing Up WILD Workshops are a great way to teach community members about the benefits of green space. Texas Parks and Wildlife has also offered these workshops in Spanish, ensuring that Hispanic community members who do not speak English are able to learn about the green spaces around them.

Conclusion and Summary

This Earth Day, let’s take a step back and consider how we can prioritize language access in the development of equitable green spaces. We can learn a lot from these five government initiatives.

  • Rhode Island PVD Tree Plan: Involving diverse voices in the planning process ensures that the needs of community members of color and folks with LEP are considered at every stage of the process.
  • Parks and Rec Chattanooga’s Outreach and Engagement: Bilingual staff can help communicate important initiatives with community members who have LEP.
  • Get Started! A Guide to USDA Resources for Historically Underserved Farmers and Ranchers: Offering resources in multiple different languages helps community members who don’t speak English educate themselves.
  • The Urban Wildlife Conservation Program: Bringing nature to urban communities ensures that people of color and people with LEP have access to equitable green space.
  • Texas Parks and Wildlife’s Project WILD/ Growing Up WILD Workshops: Conducting educational workshops in different languages is a great way to connect with folks from different linguistic backgrounds and ensure that they have access to critical information about the green spaces around them.

If you’re looking to emphasize language access in your efforts to develop equitable green spaces, Avantpage is here to help — contact us today at (530) 750-2040 or [email protected].