Most of us are probably no stranger to social issues like equity, and we may have heard the term in conjunction with other words like gender equity, pay equity or racial equity. Over the past few years, social equity is a term that has been coming up more and more. You might be thinking “what is social equity and what can I do about it?” If you can relate, then this article is for you! With social equity being one of the themes of Park and Rec Month, now is the perfect time to find out more and what it could mean for you and your agency.
So don’t worry, if you are new to the concept or haven’t had the chance to address it at work yet, you’ll soon be well equipped to get the conversation started at your agency.
What is social equity?
Sometimes specifying what something isn’t can help us understand a new concept. So, when it comes to defining social equity, it’s important that we don’t get social equity confused with social equality – it’s not the same. Equality is about having or getting the same support, opportunities, or benefits for everyone. Equity is providing what is necessary (funding, development, or special programs) to create the same access to community offerings and quality of life, no matter varying abilities, income levels, geographical location, age or ability, to name a few examples.
Why should social equity be important to Parks and Rec agencies?
Now that we’re all on the same page, let’s discuss how social equity relates to parks and recreation. The National Recreation and Park Association states that “it is a right, not just a privilege, for people nationwide to have safe healthful access to parks and recreation” so, at the end of the day, it’s about creating equitable access to P&R programs for everyone (nrpa.org, 2022). The good news is that there is a lot about Parks and Rec that is at its core, already well set up to address social equity issues (planning.org, 2016).
This might feel like a lot on top of everything else, but establishing social equity initiatives in your organizations will change lives and make an impact. And as we discovered earlier, Parks and Rec professionals, your agencies and your programs are already set up in a way that can make a difference! The positive effects of social programs and services through Parks and Recreation on quality of life has been seen all over the United States and Canada.
- Youth who are employed by Parks and Rec agencies can gain a broad range of skills, knowledge and experience as well as develop strong ties to their community (prontario.org, 2022).
- Living close to parks and other recreation facilities is consistently related to higher physical activity levels for both adults and youth (nrpa.org, 2022).
- Partnerships between park agencies and medical offices help treat and prevent obesity and related medical problems (tpl.org, 2022)
- With activities that go beyond borders like soccer, swimming and basketball, parks are an important opportunity for new immigrants to get involved in the community (icma.org, 2014).
- Crime decreased by 74% in a park in Kansas City when investments were made to the park and surrounding areas (NRPA.org, 2022).
In addition to positive impacts on individuals from all walks of life and improvements to medical and physical health, by cultivating social equity, citizens are more deeply connected to their communities which benefits society by making it more livable for all (NRPA, 2022). Social equity in parks and recreation helps make communities flourish.
How can you help change the system and make an impact?
- Explore government websites that highlight citizen rights, support programs, data and statistics.
- Attend conferences and talks, such as the NRPA Annual conference.
- Check out our blog post that rounds up the best parks and rec resources to stay connected to news and updates.
- Share the information you gather with colleagues and community members.
Involve in experts:
- Consultants: The city of Atlanta worked with Bloomberg Associates’ health equity associate to get their ActivateATL initiative off the ground and helped the city develop a mapping dashboard to “prioritize park and recreation investments in the neighborhoods that needed them the most” (Bloomberg.org, 2020).
- City Planners: Kevin O’Hara from planning.org says “Who better to identify and implement ways to address the characteristics of park systems that perpetuate such disparities than planners and park and rec professionals?” (Planning.org, 2016). Read the full article here.
- Finance and Budget Planners: Once a plan of action has been created, finance departments and budget planners need to be on the same page. Budgeting is key to making any planning and strategic decisions come to life in an effective way (nationalcivicleague.org, 2021).
Encourage community involvement:
- Survey your community just like the ActivateATL initiative. You can find out more about this city of Atlanta program in the next section of this article.
- Involve community members in the planning process and in the initiatives themselves!
- Host in-person consultations to meet and listen to citizens.
Discover how other agencies are doing it!
This West Coast Canadian city has created a program called “The Equity Bold Move” which was the result of analyzing the city and identifying which geographic areas were lacking projects, programs, and resources. With this data they created “initiative zones” which is used as a priority and decision-making tool that helps ensure investment patterns are equitable and that the right conversations are had about where the city focuses its resources.
Learn more by visiting their website.
Georgia’s largest city kicked off “ActivateATL: Recreation and Parks for All” in 2020, which according to LaChandra Butler-Burks is an “unprecedented effort to reach and hear from all residents, especially those underrepresented in city planning processes” (Bloomberg, 2020). The goal of ActivateATL is to allow all Atlanta residents a chance to shape a more equitable future for themselves with the help of the city systematically gathering and recording their input, then leveraging it to make planning decisions.
You can find out more about this Atlanta initiative on Bloomberg.org.
Seattle put into place a strategic plan for race and social justice that kicked off this year. Meant to be a long-term commitment, it spans until 2026 and has an entire city division dedicated to actioning it. The program, known as RSJI (Race & Social Justice Initiative), is a “city-wide effort to end institutionalized racism and race-based disparities” (seattle.gov, 2022). The RSJI team provides resources and training to city departments and the community as a holistic way to address “environmental, structural, institutional, and individual goals” (seattle.gov).
Check out this PDF for a summary of the initiative.
Gradual positive impact for lasting change
Now that we’re coming to the end of this article, have you noticed any trends? It seems like most social equity initiatives have a few major things in common: long-term commitment and a group of people with diverse backgrounds and expertise working towards goals together. It’s significant because it helps us realize a few things. We can’t solve social equity issues overnight and we can’t solve them alone, but when we commit and get the right people involved (planners, consultants, experts, and citizens), we start making progress in the right direction. There may be some challenges, but it all starts with informing yourself, so you are already on the right track after having read this article! With this newfound knowledge, you have the potential to make an impact for generations.