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Park access isnt equitable

MY VIEW • Demographics affect neighborhood green space
by: Tribune file photo, Neighborhoods with lower incomes and fewer white residents are more likely to be park-deficient.

Clearly there is great value in having places for people to play in varied ways, and there certainly are deficiencies in park and recreation facilities in our region ('Don't minimize the value of play,' July 3).

However, the results from the Coalition for a Livable Future's Regional Equity Atlas don't entirely square with the Portland Tribune's characterization of these deficiencies.

The Tribune states that 'some communities, such as Portland, Beaverton and Hillsboro, are rich in park and recreational facilities. Others, including Tigard, are not.' This depends on how you measure 'rich.'

While Portland has large per-capita acres of parks overall because of Forest Park, it actually falls below less-dense 'suburban' communities in the percentage of the population within a quarter-mile walking distance of a public park. Tigard actually leads Portland and Hillsboro by this measure.

The variation in park access between cities in our region turns out to be less significant than deficiencies within cities. While there certainly are some cities that have acute deficiencies in parks, which neighborhood you live in matters more than which city.

And demographics of park-rich and park-poor neighborhoods are most telling. The Regional Equity Atlas found that neighborhoods that are less white and lower income tend to have worse parks access, measured as the percentage of the population living within a quarter-mile walking distance to a public green space.

The reasons for this have much to do with the ebb and flow of public parkland acquisition over time coupled with the barriers to affordable housing, especially near parks.

The low-income, park-deficient neighborhoods of today are those neighborhoods where past park planning and acquisition did not keep pace with growth and development. This legacy of poor planning and insufficient investment is borne disproportionately by those who face greater barriers of wealth and income in finding housing.

They must settle for park-deficient neighborhoods. Increasingly, research indicates that this negatively affects human health, neighborhood crime and numerous other indicators of individual and community health essential to an equal opportunity society.

A lesson for the future: Increasing housing choices for everyone and providing adequate parks and green space in every neighborhood is critical to ensuring equitable access to high quality, healthy and affordable communities as our region grows.

Jim Labbe, urban conservationist with the Audubon Society of Portland, grew up in Northwest Portland and now lives in North Portland.