CRLC Seeks to Increase Public Access to Parks and Green Spaces in South Richmond

RICHMOND, VA –  Capital Region Land Conservancy (CRLC) has begun an important new initiative with the City of Richmond’s Green Team to increase access to parks and green spaces for residents of underserved communities, especially in South Richmond where public access is uneven.

CRLC received $26,000 from the Community Foundation for a greater Richmond through the ConseRVAtion Fund, a grant program focused on natural resources and sustainability in the Richmond region, to support the endeavor. The grant will augment the Green Team’s work by identifying and prioritizing opportunities for private lands to be acquired and incorporated into the City’s green infrastructure.

“Parks and open spaces are critical to our well-being,” said Parker Agelasto, CRLC’s executive director. “They are proven to improve water and air quality as well as public health and our children’s ability to learn.” Agelasto notes that in the City of Richmond, however, 22% of the residents don’t have access to a park or open space within a 10-minute walk from their home. Land used for parks and natural areas represent only 6% of Richmond’s city land, whereas the national average is 15%.

Acknowledging this problem, Mayor Levar Stoney is actively seeking to identify city-owned property that may be converted into public parks and open spaces as the first phase of the Green Team’s work. Stoney has even signed onto The Trust for Public Land pledge to provide all residents with equal access within a 10-minute walk, or about a half mile on average. But this approach has its limits since the city’s property footprint only extends so far and the walkability network is fragmented by railroad tracks and other impediments. CRLC understands that to fill the critical gaps, a public/private partnership is required to provide access in areas like South Richmond, where private land needs to be strategically identified and acquired.

Like many other cities across the country, Richmond’s distribution of parks and green spaces is disproportionately associated with racial and economic demographics. Evaluation of the 10-minute walk model from The Trust for Public Land known as ParkServe reveals that more than 40% of residents without access to parks in Richmond live in poverty. Approximately 50% are African American, and approximately 30% are Hispanic.

“We see it as a resounding call to action for conservationists nationwide to foreground equity and justice in our work,” said John Schengber, CRLC’s Community Engagement Manager. “I am excited to help advance a justice-oriented conservation ethic in Richmond that provides equitable access to nature.”

Still, CRLC is aware that its work is only one piece of a much larger puzzle that is being set forth in the Richmond 300 Master Plan. In the recently released draft plan, “Chapter 6: Thriving Environment,” Objective 16.2 calls for an additional 100 acres to be placed under conservation easement, and for additional properties to be acquired by the City to improve the City’s sustainability and climate resiliency efforts. CRLC, which serves as the only local land trust dedicated to the Richmond region, is thus initiating work on precise implementation strategies to fulfill this strong conservation vision for our community’s future.