Dr. Don Rakow, Cornell University & Laura Brown, University of Connecticut
Incidents of racial injustice and violence against non-whites have been constants in the history of the U.S. But the recent murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor served as tipping points that sparked nationwide protests, as well as reassessments regarding equity and inclusion policies and practices by municipalities, corporations, and not-for-profit environmental groups. Some view these efforts as sincere and long overdue, while others question whether they represent just short-term window dressing.
As white, privileged educators at major universities, we each felt compelled to question how we could contribute to the collective efforts to create a more equitable society. We each focus in our work on the benefits of time in the outdoors, and therefore decided to explore ways that organizations and individuals are shining a light on historic discriminatory practices regarding green areas, and ways in which parks, natural areas, and public gardens can be made more accessible, welcoming, and safe for every person. The result is the guide, ‘Anti-racism in the Outdoors: Resources related to inclusion, diversity, equity and access of black, indigenous and people of color in parks and greenspaces.’
We divided our resource guide into seven categories: organizations, presentations and podcasts, affinity groups and resource lists, books, articles and reports, general anti-racism resources, and ways to be an effective ally. In the first category, we were encouraged to discover the number and diversity of organizations dedicated to green access for all, regardless of race, ethnicity, religion, or sexual orientation. Some of these not-for profits, such as Gateway to the Great Outdoors, focus on providing comprehensive nature-based education for all youth; others are more about the nature adventure itself, like Outdoor Afro. Still, others target members of a particular faith community, which is the case for Green Muslims.
Social media has, of course, upended traditional communications categories, so in the presentations and podcasts section, we include examples of webinars (Blackness in the American Outdoors), podcasts (Unlikely Hikers), and online news gatherers (The Joy Trip Project). In the affinity groups section, we profile groups, such as Brown People Camping, dedicated to diversifying visitation in our public lands. The next sections of the guide bring together much of the literature on this topic: books, articles in the popular press, scientific papers, and reports.
Collectively, what these resources have revealed is what should have been obvious all along: that black, brown, indigenous and other people of color have always been engaged with the outdoors and fully experience the joys of time in nature. In the final section of the guide, we list sites that present pathways to become a more effective ally to traditionally underserved populations. Modifying a framework developed by the Melanin Base Camp Guide to Outdoor Allyship, we pose the questions: How has white privilege impacted the history and use of parks, trails, and greenways spaces in your community? What can you do to make them more equitable? Who used these spaces in the past?
We hope that, through the use of this guide, many more people will dedicate themselves, and encourage their neighbors and those in the wider community, to a wide range of outdoor activities. Understanding the history and impacts of racism in the parks and green spaces in our communities can only serve to improve the positive benefits of green spaces for all residents.
In closing, it’s important to point out that we welcome anyone to email us with suggested corrections or additions. We also recognize that we are not experts in this field and that we may display unintended biases. Please feel free to make us aware of instances of these, and we will do our best to correct them.
Don Rakow is an Associate Professor of Horticulture, School of Integrative Plant Science, Cornell University. His research focuses on both the history, management and social outreach of public gardens, and the human benefits of time in nature. He is the co-author of ‘Public Garden Management’ (Wiley & Sons, 2011), ‘Nature Rx: Improving College-Student Mental Health’ (Cornell Univ. Press, 2019), and ‘Public Gardens and Livable Cities’ (Cornell Univ. Press, 2020). Dr. Rakow holds a Ph.D. from Cornell University. He coordinates both the Nature Rx@Cornell program and the Campus Nature Rx Network of 25 colleges and universities in the U.S. and Canada. Don lives in Ithaca, NY and spends free time gardening, hiking, biking, and being with family.
Laura Brown is an Associate Professor, Community & Economic Development Educator with the University of Connecticut Department of Extension and a Certified Economic Developer (CEcD). Laura conducts applied research and educational programs that focus on asset-based community and economic development, regionalism, sustainability, place-making and economic development education. Her most recent work includes administration of the Connecticut Trail Census, a volunteer-based data collection and education program on multi-use trails. Laura lives in New Haven, Connecticut and holds an M.S. in Urban and Regional Planning from the University of Wisconsin, Madison. In her free time she enjoys adventures with her four year old, gardening, cooking and meditation.