Latino Park Access: Examining Environmental Equity in a “New Destination” County in the South
This paper examines Latino migration to a “new destination” county in the southeastern U.S., Hall County, Georgia, where environmental equity is considered in terms of Latino communities’ walking access to public and private parks in the county. Park access is considered an environmental equity or justice issue because some research shows less park acreage available to minority and immigrant communities, compared to communities where residents are mostly white and U.S. born.
Given that much Latino settlement in the county has occurred in working class, majority white neighborhoods, I examine the amount of parkland acreage that, in 2000, had significant Latino, white, and African American populations. Findings show that formerly working class white communities contained considerably fewer park acres than more affluent, mostly white communities elsewhere in the county. Consequentially, Latinos moving into these areas had access to little park acreage relative to amounts available in the county. Results suggest that Latinos must live in more integrated, middle- and upper-income neighborhoods to access a greater number of parkland acreage. Information from this study can be used to help inform park planning at the municipal and county levels, with a particular focus on improving access for the county’s Latino populations. Latino settlement is confined largely to two central-city (Gainesville, Georgia) census tracts where the amount of land available for park conversion is extremely limited. White settlement, on the other hand, extends to the outlying suburbs with more potentially convertible land. Possible strategies to address the relative lack of parkland in higher density Latino communities include converting land from existing uses such as abandoned landfills, rail yards or lines to park acreage; or the establishment of land sharing initiatives whereby neighborhood residents use schoolyards or even cemeteries for recreation. The larger task, however, for city leaders and community organizers is to involve the affected citizenry in decisions about parkland conversion; as Harnik (2010) argues, the most effective strategies for increasing park acreage involve grassroots, political engagement. Indeed, procedural justice, or the participation of nonwhite, minority, and poor communities in decisions about the production and distribution of both environmental burdens and goods (park resources) is a central tenant of environmental equity.