Study Exposes Racial, Economic Gap In Access To Nature

People Sit in Alamo Square Park during Shelter in Place Orders
Photo credit Rich Fury / Getty Images

Retreating to the outdoors has been a solace for many throughout the coronavirus pandemic, and studies have shown that nature can have powerful, positive effects on human health, both physical and mental.

But a recent report from the Center for American Progress and the Hispanic Access Foundation shows what some have known for a long time: people of color in the U.S. have less immediate access to nature than white people.

“It affects physical and mental health, if affects your chance to have severe symptoms from COVID-19, it has all sorts of effects that communities of color are lacking,” said Shanna Edberg one of the study’s authors and director of Conservation Programs at the Hispanic Access Foundation.

The study found that systemic racism has created a “nature gap” where people of color are three times more likely to live in an area that is nature deprived and lacks easy access to clean air, clean water and wildlife.

“This comes from a long history of economic segregation of communities of color from things like redlining, from the inability of minority communities to move into majority white communities, choosing to place landfills, toxic waste sites, ports and energy plants near communities of color,” Edberg explained.

68% of Black people, 67% of Latinx and Asian people and 48% of Indigenous people live in nature deprived areas, compared to 23% of white people.

The disparity cuts across class lines as well. 70% of low income communities live in areas without green space, although that figure goes up for low income people of color.

Edberg says this is an area of racial and economic disparity that often gets overlooked.

“We are really all about getting these communities to pick a space, enjoy the outdoors, raise their voices to show that these are not just white spaces.”