10 Ways Green Spaces Can Be More Accessible and Inclusive

By Mia Barnes, Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Body+Mind Magazine.

Public spaces full of greenery should be accessible to everyone. People deserve spaces in nature to relax, make memories and exercise outdoors. However, even parks designed with positive intentions can be inaccessible for some demographics. Everyone should learn how parks can be more inclusive to improve outdoor spaces open to the general public.

What Are Green Spaces?

Green spaces are any public land at least partially covered in grass, vegetation or trees. They give everyone a place to enjoy nature in areas that lack greenery, like big cities, but they can also exist in rural areas. These areas often make people proud of where they live because the space is free to access and preserves part of the natural environment.

What Are Some Examples of Green Spaces?

People typically use green spaces as community gardens and parks. They’re areas of relaxation for people while remaining a supportive part of the local ecosystem. Reservoir parks are another example of green lots designed for humans and nature to coexist. While people walk on trails or play on playground equipment, local animals find shelter and food around the grounds.

Green lots can also become cemeteries, depending on a town’s needs. There’s no specific number of trees or shrubs required to make green space. A green lot can serve multiple purposes as long as it’s undeveloped by residential or commercial interests.

10 Ways Green Spaces Can Be More Accessible and Inclusive
The beautiful Victorian street called Montpellier in Harrogate and surrounding park space.
Photo by Illiya Vjestica on Unsplash

Ways Parks Can Be More Inclusive

While green spaces should be open to everyone, they aren’t always easily accessible. Here are a few ways parks can be more inclusive for people of all ages.

1. Hire More Diverse Staff

Diverse representation in the staff running green spaces is crucial for numerous reasons. It’s an essential way to boost the local economy and inspire everyone who spends time on the land. Young people get to see themselves represented through their soccer coaches, umpires and concession stand workers, helping them imagine bigger futures for themselves.

Seeing people who look like you also indicates you’re welcome in a space. People might think they won’t be safe in green areas if no one from their demographic is there.

Spaces that don’t host sporting events can still increase their diversity opportunities. Public parks with hiking trails could hire more diverse staff to lead community hikes or conduct educational lessons for kids. Local public park offices can also hire diverse teams to plan events with their unique perspectives.

2. Include Team-Focused Play Opportunities

Kids can always play by themselves at home. When they spend time at a public park, they should have opportunities to do team-focused activities other than organized sports.

Playing with a friend on team-focused equipment like seesaws or dual swings improves a child’s problem-solving skills by making them think about how to make the equipment work together. An agility course or built-in tic-tac-toe game would also challenge how kids interact with each other while helping them develop critical skills like problem-solving, communication and more.

3. Keep Older Adults Comfortable

Parks can be more inclusive by allowing everyone to relax and have fun together. It depends on the resources available to visitors of all ages. When older adults want to watch their grandkids play sports or run around on a playground, they should have multiple seating options under a shade structure. They’ll stay cool and comfortable by remaining out of the sun on cushioned benches or chairs.

Walkways are another essential green space resource for older adults. Walking at casual speeds reduces high blood pressure naturally. The pathways should be wide enough to accommodate multiple people walking past each other and consistently clear of debris. Ensure each walkway has occasional benches as well, in case anyone needs to rest, drink water or catch their breath.

4. Meet Teens Where They Are

Teenagers have grown out of play equipment, so they might not feel welcome in green spaces like parks. If a park has features that meet them in their current phase of life, they’ll likely spend more time there. Research supports this, as teens are more inclined to visit parks when those spaces include socializing features for themselves and their friends.

Sheltered tables around electrical plugs might become places for students to work together after school. These areas could be a good distance from playground equipment or sports fields so they deal with fewer noisy distractions as they study.

Food trucks could also bring more teenagers to green spaces. While they work on group projects at park tables or attend events, food trucks can provide meals and snacks that prolong their time at the park. The food would also satisfy teens there for other purposes, like performing in an outdoor drama club or practicing their instruments for band class.

People of all ages will use green spaces if the lots offer opportunities designed for their stages of life. Anyone operating a green space should consider the age demographics closest to the park to better understand what features the space needs to accommodate residents in local age groups.

5. Advocate for Better Transportation

Subsidized bus systems could centralize around inclusive parks and other green spaces so everyone has a straightforward, free way to reach them. Locals can advocate adding parks as additional stops on nearby bus routes as well. If people who can’t drive have a reliable way to visit green lots, they’re more likely to enjoy the areas as much as people with cars.

6. Host Cultural Events

Events are other ways parks can be more inclusive. If public park employees only host events according to the federal holiday calendar, it removes opportunities for holiday events related to global cultures. People from those cultures may live in your community and feel more encouraged to enjoy available green spaces if they see themselves celebrated there.

Philadelphia’s public park system hosted an Eid al-Fitr celebration in coordination with the local Norristown Islamic Society at Elmwood Park. Attendees brought picnic supplies to celebrate the holiday, showcasing how green spaces are excellent opportunities for cultural events that bring people together outdoors.

Public outdoor theaters, grassy areas off hiking trails and open spaces next to playgrounds are all also great places for multicultural events. It’s up to park employees to get creative and find cultural touchstones in the community for inspiration.

7. Pave the Trails

Walking outdoors improves your breathing and provides simplified cardio exercise, but trails can still prevent people from getting outdoors. Rocky, uneven terrain is challenging for even the most in-shape individuals without disabilities.

People who need wheelchairs or use other ambulatory assistive devices will get more use from public spaces with paved trails. Even sidewalks and well-maintained ramps are essential for opening public parks to more people. It’s something people might accidentally overlook when initially creating gravel or cleared walkways, but it’s worth a second look when making more accessible parks.

8. Provide Accurate Website Information

Websites are a vital source of information. Dedicated websites to local parks and other green lots let people know what they’ll experience before they leave home. They should be able to read through the homepage to discover if a park has wheelchair access, paved trails, inclusive playground equipment and other helpful features that make parks accessible to everyone.

9. Upgrade Park Signs for People With Visual Impairments

Green spaces always have some form of signage. They might indicate where trails lead, where people can find the bathroom or the park’s hours during different seasons. Although signs are helpful, they prevent others from understanding how to safely use the green space if they don’t have visual accessibility modifications.

Upgrading park signs with large text helps people with visual impairments. Adding braille beneath each sign ensures blind visitors can get the same information. Many parks also have buttons attached to signs that play audio recordings of what’s on the sign or what the park looks like in that area. If everyone feels confident in the park’s rules, map and hours, they’ll visit green lots more often.

10. Add Unique and Accessible Attractions

People generally know what to expect when they visit a public park or green space. There will likely be some kind of playground equipment, an area to play sports and benches for adults watching their kids. Green spaces can be more inclusive and interesting if they each feature at least one attraction people can’t find at other parks.

The team running Lincoln Park in Chicago wanted to create this experience, so they added a fully accessible treehouse for young kids. The doorways and platforms are easy to reach for young people with mobility assistance tools like crutches, wheelchairs and walkers. The tactile, immersive play area lets kids get more creative and helps the park stand out as a place for everyone.

When Socrates Sculpture Park was built in Queens, New York, the space became more than an outdoor museum for local artists. While anyone visiting the park can use the walkways to admire the ever-changing art displays, visitors can also participate in outdoor activities like meditation, yoga, gardening and more. People of all ages and abilities will find things to do in parks when creative ideas give green properties new possibilities.

Make Green Spaces Available to Everyone

Green places like public parks can be more inclusive with extra thought and dedication. Use these ideas to make your local area more accessible, no matter what features it offers. You’ll make every resident feel welcome, transforming the green space into one everyone can enjoy.

About the Author

Mia Barnes has been a freelance writer for over 4 years with expertise in healthy living and sustainability. Mia is also the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of the online publication, Body+Mind Magazine

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