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In the pandemic, parks have become the place to get fresh air, exercise and meet up for socially distanced hangouts. A new study finds that access to parks differs sharply depending on income and race. NPR's Laurel Wamsley reports.
LAUREL WAMSLEY, BYLINE: In the age of social distancing and rising temperatures, having a park in the neighborhood is more important than ever. But a new study from The Trust for Public Land found that access to parks is far from equal.
LINDA HWANG: Parks that serve primarily low-income households are on average four times smaller, and they serve over three times as many people per park acre.
WAMSLEY: That's Linda Hwang from The Trust for Public Land. The data found that race has a role, too.
HWANG: Parks that serve a majority of people of color are half as big, and they serve nearly five times as many people per acre compared to parks that serve a majority white population.
WAMSLEY: A primary reason to go to a park right now is to get space for social distancing and because the coronavirus is transmitted less easily outdoors than in.
HWANG: But if it's the case that the park that they're going to is just crowded with a lot more people, it's just that much more difficult to keep a safe distance from other people around you.
WAMSLEY: And there's the issue of heat. Heat kills more people in the U.S. than any other extreme weather event. An average of more than 700 people die from heat-related causes each year. Parks can help cool things down, especially in cities. The study found that areas within a 10-minute walk of a park are as much as six degrees cooler than the areas beyond, and shaded surfaces can be up to 45 degrees cooler than unshaded surfaces. But not all parks are created equal, Hwang says, and they don't all offer the same cooling effect.
HWANG: Even if you can walk to a park within 10 minutes of where you live, if it doesn't have any trees or if it's covered in asphalt, you're not getting that same cooling benefit from another park that may be the same size but has a really nice tree canopy and really great vegetation.
WAMSLEY: Jose Gonzalez is the founder of Latino Outdoors, a community and advocacy organization. He says more investment in green spaces for low-income communities of color is overdue, but that investment has to be done with community involvement alongside other investments in housing and education. He says the pandemic has shown that parks can no longer be treated as nice-to-haves but must be understood as essential.
JOSE GONZALEZ: In the past, they tended to be one of the first things to get cut. I mean, we see it with cities, right? Protect fire. Protect police. Parks can wait until the very end. We can't afford to continue to do that.
WAMSLEY: This is the moment, he says, to explore what a new, more equitable future can be.
Laurel Wamsley, NPR News.
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