Wednesday, August 6, 2008 - 9:50 AM

OOS 14-6: Parks and people: An ecological approach to natural resource management and environmental stewardship in urban settings

Mary Lynn Washington, The Parks & People Foundation


The Parks & People Foundation, founded in 1984 operates within a philosophical and operational approach that links environmental education, community organizing, outreach, and ecological research, Over the years, we have found Baltimore City residents and community leaders in predominately African American communities to be tremendous partners in our community projects and as stated in a 2003 study commissioned by the National Resources Council of America, “African-Americans have made tremendous contributions to the conservation of our nation’s natural resources.”  However, our experiences in Baltimore City and the State of Maryland as well as other empirical evidence, also tells us that as a group African-Americans and other racial minorities rarely identify as environmentalists even though they engage in natural resource management or restoration projects in their neighborhoods. This disconnect is significant because in Maryland the small percentage of low-income and racial and ethnic minority environmental advocates currently participating in mainstream public debates and policy-making is not sufficient to create the political will to move our nation and our city toward “establishing healthy, sustainable relationships between humans and the ecological systems.”

This paper describes the results of the Parks & People Foundation research, education and policy work that emerged from its environmental justice to improve the neighborhoods, recreation centers, parks and schools of Baltimore City and improve minority and low-income white participation in urban ecology restoration and conservation


Our observations and experiences in Maryland and in Baltimore City are instructive when placed in the larger context of the environmental movement and its current issues around the lack of minority participation. When we have surveyed our community partners and other residents in our neighborhood projects about their environmental concerns, they have stated consistently and resoundingly that what matters most to them is jobs, community development, safe and clean blocks and recreational activities for youth.  These findings have led us to conclude and recommend that in order to achieve increased participation by low-income and minority people in the traditional environmental and natural resource management movement, innovative and inclusive approaches are necessary.  Ecologist must value our role in creating an educated and informed constituency that can provide voices to protect our natural resources, to deepen public discussion of public policy issues, and to encourage public debate about how to sustain and build greater social networks to address the complex issues that naturally occur in a human environment.

[1] Parks & People Foundation MERGE survey.