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Natural Awakenings Richmond

Equitable Access to Parks and Greenspaces is a Priority

Jun 30, 2020 09:40AM ● By Justin Doyle

The past few months have been trying, and our physical, mental and emotional health have been put to the test; spending time outdoors is a natural comfort that has helped many cope with the uncertainty. Our public parks and lands provide us with venues in which to exercise our bodies, connect with nature and relax our minds as refuges from the COVID-19 pandemic. All residents need optimum access to parks and green spaces to thrive.

Access to parks and public lands was limited due to closures and restrictions implemented at the onset of the pandemic, but most parks and public lands have now reopened and the James River Association continues to encourage Virginians to enjoy the outdoors responsibly during this period of social distancing. With fewer options for enjoyment, people are flocking to parks for relaxation and recreation. If the pandemic has made anything clearer, it’s how much we value our green spaces.

The city of Richmond, with assistance from the James River Association and others, has joined the Biophilic Cities Network, a global community of cities that recognize the important connection between humans and the natural world. Biophilic cities integrate nature into the built environment for the benefit of humans and wildlife, restore and protect nature and ultimately create opportunities for people to enjoy and connect with nature.

After joining the Biophilic Cities Network, Mayor Levar Stoney convened a “Green Team” of public servants and nonprofit leaders to begin working toward the goal of ensuring that, through a lens of social and racial equity, all residents reside within a 10-minute walk of a park or green space. The Green Team has developed policy recommendations to help expand access to parks and greenscapes in the city, and has identified and prioritized city-owned parcels of land as candidates to become parks and green spaces in areas of the city where access is lacking.

Visitation to parks will likely remain high through the summer and fall months, and parks will continue to be places where residents seek respite as the pandemic wears on. The James River Association hopes the Green Team will serve as a model and inspire other localities to invest resources in the creation of places where every citizen, regardless of where they live, can connect with nature and have access to enjoy parks and green spaces. 

Justin Doyle is community conservation manager of the James Rivers Association. The James River Association is a champion of expanding public access to the James River and its tributaries through the creation of riverside parks. To help advocate for an accessible James River, visit