More than a dozen Pennsylvania mayors, including Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto, petitioned Congress this week to invest $ 500 million in parks nationwide to improve justice in urban communities.

Mayors joined efforts with The Trust for Public Land, who led a coalition of over 300 nonprofits, community groups, and corporations urging Congress to pass the Parks, Jobs and Equity Act under the American Jobs Plan. The groups are demanding the $ 500 million for parks as part of the infrastructure package.

In their June 28 letter to the Pennsylvania Congressional Delegation, Mayors said “the time has come to fill the long-standing gaps in outdoor access and quality,” noting the creation and upgrading of In addition to the community, parks also has environmental and economic benefits.

Four other mayors from western Pennsylvania signed the letter: Chris Frye from New Castle, Bill Gerke from Uniontown, Frank Janakovic from Johnstown, and Nickole Nesby from Duquesne.

According to the TPL, the plan could fund over 1,000 new or refurbished parks and create an additional 8,000 jobs. TPL, a non-profit organization founded in 1972, is committed to “bringing parks and nature to the places, people and communities that need them most”.

Nesby commented on the inadequacies of the parks and recreational areas in Duquesne.

“If we saw anything in the pandemic, it was the inadequacy of funding,” she said. “It’s used in Pennsylvania. Every congregation should have access, we do not have enough playgrounds for so many young people in our congregation – we have problems with floods and standing water for weeks, it is not safe for the children. “

Nesby also spoke about the united front of mayors. “We [mayors] may have different communities, but our common problem is our next generation – we need to invest in our next generations, ”she said.

The mayor’s letter argues that investing in green spaces will help to mitigate climate change and the “urban heat island effect” that is said to have disproportionately affected low-income communities. It cited TPL research showing parks improve community health and climate resilience by reducing flooding, absorbing air pollution, and filtering rainwater to keep rivers and lakes cleaner.

The call to invest in local parks is in response to a dramatic increase in park use during the Covid pandemic, which has exposed inequalities in access to parks across the state.

The State Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, which manages state parks and awards grants to expand recreational facilities, reported a 26 percent year-over-year increase in park visitors in 2020. In mid-2021, park use will continue to grow by a record number in 2020.

“We are excited about the increase in visitors to our parks and recognize the need to expand access to parks in cities in Pennsylvania that have fewer recreational and green spaces,” said DCNR Secretary Cindy Adams Dunn. “This proposal addresses our most pressing immediate needs and lays the foundations for further growth, improves environmental conditions in urban areas and helps promote positive physical and mental health.”

DCNR press secretary Wesley Robinson said the lack of green space in smaller urban areas had been known for some time, but since the pandemic, access to parks had become more important.

“From January to May we saw a 4 percent increase over the already record-breaking previous year and we expect this to continue, but urban areas like Altoona and Lancaster don’t have the same opportunities as Philadelphia, for example,” he said .

Robinson also stated support for the funding boost.

“Although we [DCNR] We don’t ask for the money, we support the mayors and TPL – we want to get the message across because it’s a very important mission. “

Last year, according to the mayor’s letter, 9 out of 10 residents of the state said they used the outdoors for recreation, but nearly half have no access to nearby outdoor recreational spaces (defined as a 10-minute walk from home). .

“We have seen over the past year the value of parks and nature to the mental and physical well-being of our residents, and this legislation would fund new park projects to bring more people into these spaces,” said Owen Franklin, Pennsylvania state director for TPL . Creating safe and accessible outdoor spaces for all is not only right, it also creates healthier and more climate-resilient communities. “

Zachary Gibson is a contributor to Tribune Review. You can contact Zachary by email at [email protected] or on Twitter.