Creating an equitable park system is one goal of the Trust for Public Land (TPL), a national nonprofit “that works to connect everyone to the benefits and joys of the outdoors.”
At a program last month presented in collaboration with Kirkland Parks and Community Services, Mitsu Iwasaki, TPL’s associate vice president and Northwest director discussed the 10-Minute Walk campaign and other local projects that are underway or recently completed. TPL has offices in Seattle and Wenatchee.
Launched in 2017, the award-winning national effort focuses on advancing “policies and solutions that change the way we plan, fund, and govern our public greenspaces.”
Currently, an estimated 100 million people in the U.S., including 28 million children, do not have access to a close-to-home park or green space. TPL’s research shows residents in low-income neighborhoods and systemically under-resourced racial and ethnic minority communities have access to significantly less park space than residents of high-wealth neighborhoods.
The data-driven campaign’s goal is to ensure all people have access to a park within a 10-minute walk of home (equivalent to about a half-mile for an able-bodied person). More than 300 mayors and local leaders have committed to the program.
“Close-to-home parks serve as essential backyards for millions of people and open up countless possibilities for communities and cities by helping to confront some of today’s most pressing urban challenges,” TPL states. “Access to nature and green spaces is shown to reduce stress and improve mental health and strengthen social ties,” the organization adds. Such spaces can also lower average area temperatures to help neighborhoods mitigate climate change.
Iwasaki also discussed some of TPL’s other “summits to sound endeavors,” which have made the outdoors more in reach for 150,000 Washington residents.
In a partnership with Seattle Art Museum, the Trust for Public Land helped reclaim and redevelop a 7.3-acre brownfield in downtown Seattle, transforming the former fuel-storage and transfer facility into the unique Olympic Sculpture Park. The collaboration, which also involved public and private contributions, is downtown Seattle’s largest green space. It has offered free admission since it opened in 2007.
Transforming asphalt playgrounds at schools into vibrant green spaces is another TPL undertaking. Among projects that are part of the 300 Community Schoolyards®, are five sites in Tacoma, where the school district, Metro Parks Tacoma, and local leaders are renovating underused schoolyards to create dynamic neighborhood parks.
TPL collaborates with students, teachers, and neighbors to design schoolyards that advance community goals, reflect local cultures, and feature student interests. An added benefit of student involvement is they gain valuable knowledge about native plants, drainage, and urban heat.
More than 65,000 people in Tacoma are not within a 10-minute walk to a green space, the largest park access gap of any major city in Washington. By 2024 when the five pilot projects are completed, more than 2,000 elementary school students in Tacoma will be able to enjoy and explore the new play and gathering spaces. Additionally, 25,000 people will be within a 10-minute walk between the community schoolyards and their homes.
In South Wenatchee, TPL helped create Methow Park, a welcoming outdoor space that celebrates the local culture. During the park planning process, some 2,000 people engaged with planners. As one of the few public green spaces in the majority Latino neighborhood where it is situated, the park now features vibrant new murals, a kiosko (pavilion) for celebrations, and colorful fencing in the style of Mexican papel picado.
Thanks to a grant of $14 million to Kittitas County from the state’s Recreation and Conservation Office, a 3,600-acre area near Thorp will be preserved. The funds will be administered and managed by the Trust for Public Land.
Located next to other protected lands and close to the Palouse to Cascades State Park Trail, the expanse of land known as Springwood Ranch (and visible from I-90) was once owned by cattle rancher Stuart Anderson, founder of the Black Angus Restaurants chain.
With its array of landscapes, irrigated agricultural fields and shrub steppe, TPL envisions preserving the sites diverse streambanks and habitats for salmon and other fish. It also has potential for significant water benefits.
These examples are among 357 projects encompassing 143,476 acres of open land in TPL’s portfolio in Washington.
The Trust for Public Land was founded in 1972 “on the conviction that all people need access to nature and the outdoors, close to home, in the cities and communities where they live.” Since it was established, TPL has created 5,352 places and protected 3,932,154 acres. Last year it created 126,862 acres of new public land across the country and improved access to 120 miles of trails. The entity also helped pass 34 ballot measures that will generate $8.4 billion in new public funding for parks, conservation, and climate.
In 2022, TPL also launched its 10-Minute Walk® Park Equity Accelerator. It addresses the root causes of park inequities and will direct resources and provide technical assistance on solving park equity problems through policy change and innovation. Participating cities will field-test policy ideas over a 12-to-15-month period, with findings to be used to support scaling the model to additional cities. Six cities are part of the Accelerator’s first round.
“We know parks are vital for healthy communities, and that investment in parks is game-changing for resilient and thriving cities. However, years of policies and practices have resulted in underinvestment in neighborhoods, exacerbating this park equity gap, and denying millions the health, climate, and social benefits of close-to-home access to the outdoors,” said Bianca Shulaker, senior director of TPL’s 10-Minute Walk program. “Given the urgency and scale of this nature gap, we’re excited to be launching these partnerships with communities to advance policy and other systems changes that will accelerate equitable access to quality park spaces,” she added in a statement announcing the initiative.
Since establishing a presence in Washington state in 1975, TPL has done a comprehensive analysis of the area’s conservation needs. It created the Puget Sound Land Action Fund to pool gifts from many donors, thereby providing in-state resources to save land under immediate threat. Today, it leads a new coalition of 14 land trusts and conservation organizations across Washington with ambitious goals.
All TPL projects can be viewed online, and are searchable by topic, location, status.
TPL offers two tiers of membership: Standard (starting at $10) and Conservation Champions (for donors of $2,000 or more). Benefits include Land & People Magazine, invitations to exclusive virtual and in-person events, a newsletter, and periodic updates. It also accepts donations, which are tax-deductible, noting every $1 donated enables TPL to protect $11 of land.