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A few years back I became interested in research that showed that Black, Latinx, and Hispanic people who lived near public parks don’t necessarily feel comfortable using them so a CityLab story on that topic caught my eye. The story itself discusses how mayors of cities around the country are still trying to figure out how to make public spaces more welcoming to everyone, especially as people are gravitating toward parks as places to assemble during the pandemic.
There is a lot of history that factors into the discomfort and wariness people feel in relation to parks and many cities aren’t doing the best job of it. Despite multiple police related shootings of Black men in the past few years, apparently Minneapolis is among the best cities in terms of trying to bring equity to their public park system.
“Beginning in 2011, the city’s park and recreation board started working on what she and her colleagues say is the nation’s first comprehensive racial equity plan for parks, to be reviewed and updated every year. It came up with seven criteria to ensure that park funding would be allocated to areas that needed it most — including the racial make-up of surrounding neighborhoods, the general and youth population of an area, and the condition and lifespan of the parks themselves.
“It’s not just about investment and capital planning; it’s about procurement, and youth and community engagement,” Lusk said. “It’s about staffing diversity — if they are representative of their communities — and the siting of community gardens in areas they haven’t been historically.”
When I followed links to previous stories and studies that have been done, there was one story that reinforced the need to do thorough, inclusive surveying if your goal is to be welcoming to everyone. What a study in Houston found was that Whites, Blacks and Latinos had different priorities for parks.
“…the majority of respondents replied that they wanted their neighborhoods and parks linked to biking and walking paths. The problem with that survey is that about two-thirds of the respondents were white with household incomes over $75,000…
To correct this misrepresentation, a group of researchers from Rice University, conducted another survey, … This one was targeted at African-American and Latino neighborhoods … Lo and behold, the priorities differed from those of the initial survey. As the researchers write in the report about the surveys, “More Inclusive Parks Planning: Park Quality and Preferences for Park Access and Amenities”:
‘Neighborhood connectivity to parks was not a salient issue among park users in these neighborhoods, although this had been a primary finding from the 2014 Master Plan Survey and a favored option of 31 percent of respondents in our closed-ended question. Instead, they envisioned a diverse set of new or improved amenities—most prominently, restrooms and water fountains, and an array of recreational infrastructure—in better maintained and safer parks.’
In fact, connectivity was ranked last among priorities for black and Latino Houstonians. What do they want for their parks? Not only clean, functioning public bathrooms, but also better lighting to make parks safer at night and better playground equipment that’s not prone to breaking down.
I call attention to this because many arts organizations have become more determined to be more welcoming to a wider range of their community, but may be making the wrong assumptions about what everyone feels they need.
One of the first things I paid attention to when I started my current job going on three years ago was where bus stops were located relative to my venue and how late they ran, assuming that more people would consider participating in events if public transportation was available. I know it is a big factor in my community when it comes to getting to work, but perhaps it isn’t among the top impediments for everyone when it comes to attending a performance. (It may be easier to coordinate car pooling with family/friends to a single event than getting to work every day, for instance.)
Being viewed as welcoming to more people is likely to require putting in the time to collect data and build relationships with the people who can provide an accurate picture of what is most important.