Everyone deserves to live in a clean, healthy environment—one that is free from hazards and emerging pathogens, resilient to future changes, and fulfills our need to connect with nature.
Healthy environments provide clean air, water, land, and well-functioning ecosystems, ensuring people are able to adapt to the inevitable impacts of climate change. Individuals need thriving natural places to feel healthy today—and communities rely on natural systems to support health now and in the future.
Changing Course summaries feature working definitions, recent facts, key issues, and a short list of pivotal moves that stand out as high priorities for quick action.CC-Final-Thriving-Natural-World
Deep Dives are the full source documents contributed by colleagues on the various topics selected in the Changing Course summaries.DD-Final-Thriving-Natural-World
54% of Black people
face a higher health
burden from air pollution
than the overall
2M+ Americans live
without running water
or a working toilet at
Americans are more likely
than any other group to
have trouble accessing
1 in 3 households in
the United States faces
extreme hardships paying
energy bills to heat and
cool their home, prepare
meals, and keep food and
2x as many Black people
deaths as compared with
Facts adapted from the
Thriving Natural World
LOW-INCOME COMMUNITIES AND COMMUNITIES OF COLOR in the United States have experienced disproportionate burdens from environmental hazards, unhealthy land uses, lack of access to parks and green spaces, historical traumas, and other sociodemographic stressors. Communities of Color are more likely to live near sources of toxic air and water pollution, exposing them to a higher risk of serious health problems. These very health conditions asthma and cardiovascular disease, for example—have now been linked to worse COVID-19 outcomes, underscoring the cumulative nature of vulnerability that is experienced daily by low-income communities and Communities of Color.
A just response and recovery to COVID-19 requires an understanding of the interconnectedness of this global pandemic with issues of income and place-based inequality, environmental degradation, and racism. The loss of ecosystems and habitat, climate change, and other factors are part of the reason for this and future pandemics. Addressing climate change, health inequities, and disparities in access to nature will require transformational change in our policies and systems. We cannot have healthy people without healthy places, and we cannot have healthy places without a thriving natural world.
- Climate change disproportionately impacts the health of low-income communities and Communities of Color.
- People of Color are more likely to live in neighborhoods with multiple environmental stressors, such as air and water pollution.
- Safe running water, energy, and healthy housing are especially necessary during this pandemic and are basic conditions everyone needs to be healthy and thrive.
- Low-income communities and Communities of Color are least likely to have access to the public, open spaces that are critical to well-being, particularly during the COVID-19 crisis, when access to fresh air, sunlight, and exercise while maintaining proper distancing is so important.
A Selection of Ideas for Changing Course
EQUITABLE ACCESS TO PARKS & OPEN SPACE
Cities can adopt a transparent, data-driven, community-led approach to
improve the equitable allocation of public resources as part of park and
urban open-space development. Parks can contribute to higher land values
that lead to gentrification. The positive aspects of parks and open space can
only be created if their development is just, equitable, and inclusive in both
process and outcome—so that people can stay in place if they so choose.
TURN EDUCATION INSIDE OUT: GREEN SCHOOLYARDS
These preliminaries settled, he did not care to put off any longer the execution of his design, urged on to it by the thought of all the world was losing by his delay, seeing what wrongs he intended to right, grievances to redress, injustices to repair, abuses to remove, and duties to discharge.
NO SHUT OFF
A national moratorium on shutoffs of water, electricity, and gas for
residential buildings would ensure all people have basic necessities to be
healthy and combat the spread of COVID-19.
Running water and electricity
are necessary to be safe and
healthy, yet are not affordable for
everyone. Residential water rates
have increased at three times
the rate of inflation over the last
decade, and in some cities, such
as Flint, MI, water affordability
has reached crisis levels.
Path to Renewal
Parks, green schoolyards, and
other community spaces not
only have many health benefits,
but they can also strengthen
social bonds and social capital,
especially when communities are
engaged in planning.
“We need to flip the sequence of events—create community-driven equity strategies, implement those strategies, and only then create the asset (park, infrastructure, etc.). In the Bridge Park’s case, by the time the park is expected to open in 2023, we’ll have implemented our equitable development.”— SCOTT KRATZ
DIRECTOR, 11TH STREET BRIDGE PARK
The 11th Street Bridge Park in Washington, D.C., brings green infrastructure to a
community that lacks it, including stormwater management, native plants and trees, a
rooftop farm, meadow, and river garden. The Street Bridge Park project has:
- Created 71 full-time jobs in historically lower-income Wards 7 and 8
- Engaged more than 2,500 residents in tenants’ rights initiatives
- Supported cultural works, like the Black Love Experience featuring music and art
- Harvested more than 7,500 pounds of fresh produce
This model illustrates how green spaces can facilitate equitable community development and ensure a wide range of social, economic, environmental, health, and cultural benefits for all.CC-Final-Thriving-Natural-World