Since the 1970s, when he was a beekeeper in Bogotá, Colombia, Will Rogers has believed in the connection between people and the environment. Today, as the president of the Trust for Public Land (TPL), he spends his time conserving land for people to use as parks, gardens and other natural areas.
“It’s a very privileged concept to think of parks as luxuries,” Rogers began during a recent interview with the Active Living Network. “You have to go back to health. What are the set of factors that lead to healthy individuals and communities?”
During his time as an urban real estate developer, Rogers began thinking about what it takes to make great, healthy cities, and realized parks were central. “I came to the issue through social equity and fairness,” he noted, which led to the realization that many people don’t have access to the parks others take for granted. “In Los Angeles, nearly two-thirds of kids under 14 can’t walk to a park or garden area.”
The opportunity to address this problem on a national scale drew Rogers to TPL. “There isn’t another national organization focused on parks and open space in cities; working to create equity and fairness.” Today, TPL’s urban parks projects span the nation: The City Spaces program is transforming playgrounds in New York City, efforts on the Atlanta Beltline trail are connecting 44 neighborhoods in an “emerald necklace” around the city and the Parks for People program is creating new urban parks in Los Angeles, to name just a few examples.
And there is always more work to do. One opportunity is in brownfield redevelopment. “You do get a second bite at the apple, especially through recycling former [brownfield] sites,” Rogers noted. Communities that couldn’t keep heavy industrial uses from being located there in the first place now have a chance to convert land into parks as industries move on or close. One such example is happening in Santa Fe, where TPL is converting an abandoned rail yard into a new 12-acre park.
As development continues in this country – according to the Brookings Institution, half the buildings in America in 2030 have not been built today – Rogers is most excited about the growing understanding about the importance of protecting places people care about. In closing, he offered a final thought: “Red and blue make green…Whether talking to ranchers in the interior West or inner city communities trying to increase the number of gardens and playgrounds, the level of awareness and passion around this issue is truly inspiring. And the change is happening at the state, municipality and county level. That’s where the action is.”
For more information about TPL, visit www.tpl.org.
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