By Betsy Price and Michael Hancock, as originally published in the Star Telegram
America’s mayors stand on the front lines of the most daunting challenges facing our nation, from public health to increasing economic inequality among our citizens, to addressing the effects of natural disasters. As the mayors of Fort Worth and Denver, we also know that our fellow mayors across the country are in the business of finding creative solutions to these challenges, working to find the most efficient and innovative ways to improve the lives of all who call our cities home. That’s why we are thrilled to join the Trust for Public Land, the National Recreation and Park Association, and the Urban Land Institute in launching a coalition of more than 130 bipartisan mayors aimed at allowing every American, no matter their neighborhood, access to a quality park within 10 minutes of their home.
Parks and open space have helped address urban challenges for centuries. The U.S. Conference of Mayors unanimously passed a resolution this summer encouraging all mayors to actively pursue the 10-minute walk to a park goal because we recognize new innovations in park design are enabling these public spaces to play an even greater role in service to cities. Take for example the recent hurricanes affecting cities across America. Parks along coastal areas can be designed to specifically address storm resiliency by absorbing surges and coastal flooding.
In addition, parks provide substantial health benefits and provide opportunities for those who live nearby to be physically active and interact with nature. Data shows that when people have close access to parks, they exercise more, and as we know, even small amounts of exercise have positive effects on health and well-being.
Parks also produce important social and community benefits, from making inner-city neighborhoods more livable to offering recreational opportunities for at-risk youth and low-income children and families. Access to safe, quality public parks with robust programming has been strongly linked to reductions in crime and reduced juvenile delinquency.
Of critical importance to all of America’s mayors, parks provide infrastructure benefits, from reducing the cost of capturing and processing stormwater to supporting green infrastructure that improves our environment.
Reaching all Americans living within a 10-minute walk or open space will require major advances in park finance and construction; zoning changes to encourage park development; embedding this goal into city parks master plans; expanding “joint use” agreements that open school playgrounds, tracks and gyms for public use after hours and on weekends; and other innovations. Mayors are well-suited to tackle this. We are able to seek innovative public, private and philanthropic partnerships and use new technologies to think outside the box on ways to expand access for all our residents. For example, using innovative mapping technology, we are empowering communities to make effective and efficient decisions on where and how to increase access. This is just one of the tools at our disposal that we will deploy through this effort.
As Fort Worth and Denver both continue to experience rapid growth, we have invested in an extensive network of parks and open trails. Fort Worth is now home to more than 270 parks and nearly 80 miles of public trails and 12,000 acres of open land, and these investments have led to dramatic improvements in the walkability of our city for residents and visitors alike. In Denver, it’s never been more important to protect, preserve and grow our parks and recreational opportunities, especially as our city also experiences rapid growth. Great cities need great park systems, and we are prioritizing a focus on health and healthy lifestyles through a commitment to parks and open spaces.
As we work toward this ambitious goal together, parks will remain a source of joy for our children, a place of community for our neighborhoods, and an important contributor to the environment and health of our residents. This 10-minute walk goal is transformational public policy to re-envision how to design and use park space. Together, we can work to ensure all Americans have access to a quality park or open space within a 10-minute walk of home. More information on the 10-Minute Walk campaign can be found at www.10minutewalk.org.
Betsy Price is mayor of Fort Worth, and Michael Hancock is mayor of Denver.