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Urban Natural Resources Stewardship

Measuring Park Access and Environmental Justice in Baltimore

[image:] Map of Baltimore parks and population characteristics, 1930.  Click on image to see larger version.

Research Issue

Do all Baltimore residents have the same access to city parks? Does the distribution of parks in the city indicate environmental justice or injustice?

Our Research

We used a novel approach to measure park ‘service areas,’ territories defined by distance to the closest park, as an indicator of environmental justice in Baltimore, Maryland. We found that more blacks than whites have access to parks within walking distance of their homes, but whites have access to more acres of parks than blacks. Areas of the city with the highest need for parkland have the best access to parks but also have access to fewer acres of parkland compared to low-need areas. Park service areas that are predominantly black have more park crowding than areas that are predominantly white. We argue that environmental justice must move beyond just the locations of amenities like parks to address the underlying forces that create land use patterns. For Baltimore, we examined how local laws, racial covenants, improvement associations, the Home Owners Loan Corporation, and the Parks and Recreation Board created separate black spaces. In the post-WWII era, many middle-class whites and blacks moved out of the city to the suburbs leaving blacks who were formerly segregated in park-poor areas of the city with much of Baltimore’s land, including parks. The outcome is that blacks today seem to have equitable access to parks but this access was caused by historical patterns of discrimination and injustice.

Expected Outcomes

This research adds to the extensive body of past work on environmental justice and access to environmental amenities like parks.  We suggest that historical factors and patterns should be taken into account when measuring access to environmental amenities.

Research Results

Pickett, S.T.A., Cadenasso, Mary L, Grove, J. Morgan, Boone, Christopher G., Groffman, Peter M., Irwin, E., Kaushal, Sujay, Marshall, Victoria, McGrath, Brian P., Nilon, Charles H., Pouyat, Richard V., Szlavecz, Katalin, Troy, Austin, and Warren, Paige. 2011. Urban ecological systems: scientific foundations and a decade of progress. Journal of Environmental Management. doi:10.1016/j.jenvman.2010.08.022  

Buckley, Geoffrey L., Boone, Christopher G. 2010. To promote the material and moral welfare of the community: Neighborhood  Improvement Associations in Baltimore, Maryland, 1900 – 1945. In Environmental and Social Inequalities in the City since 1800, eds. R. Rodger and G. Massard-Guilbaud. Munich: Berghahn Press.

Boone, C. G., G. B. Buckley, J. M. Grove, S. Chona. (2009). Parks and People: an Environmental Justice Inquiry in Baltimore, Maryland. Annals of the Association of American Geographers 99(4): 1-21.

Research Participants

  • Christopher G. Boone, School of Human Evolution & Social Change, School of Sustainability, Arizona State University
  • Geoffrey L. Buckley, Department of Geography, Ohio University
  • J. Morgan Grove, U.S. Forest Service, Northern Research Station
  • Chona Sister, Global Institute of Sustainability, Arizona State University

Last Modified: 01/14/2011