Urban Parks Infrastructure Gets Congressional Spotlight

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This week, the House Natural Resources Committee held a hearing on H.R. 4512, the Outdoors for All Act, sponsored by Rep. Nanette Diaz Barragán (D-CA) and Rep. Mike Turner (R-OH) and endorsed by ASCE. This bipartisan bill guarantees a source of funding up to $25 million to expand outdoor recreation opportunities in urban communities and to promote the development of public-private partnerships for such projects. Over 80% of our country’s population live in cities, which makes these urban projects of utmost importance for economic growth and increased resilience. Despite their many benefits, our nation’s urban parks are chronically underfunded.

ASCE’s 2017 Infrastructure Report Card gave our nation’s public parks a grade of “D+” due to decades of underinvestment. One of the solutions to raise that grade is to fully fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), which provides funding for the protection of natural resources and for outdoor recreation projects, including local parks, playgrounds, urban wildlife refuges, greenways, trails, and open spaces. More than 98% of our nation’s counties have a park project that has been funded by the LWCF. The LWCF is funded by a small portion of federal offshore drilling fees – not through taxpayer dollars – and generates $4 in economic value for every $1 invested. Although it is authorized at $900 million annually, the program receives much less than this each year. In fact, the President’s FY21 Budget Request includes just $14.7 million for the LWCF – a 97% decrease compared to current funding levels.

Not only are urban parks economic drivers, but they also play a critical role in increasing cities’ resilience. These parks provide dual-use spaces for both recreation and green stormwater management. The LWCF has funded the development of over 25,000 sports fields in communities across the nation, many of which are designed to soak up millions of gallons of rainwater to reduce combined sewer overflows (CSOs). CSOs threaten the health of communities by discharging toxic substances and runoff into nearby bodies of water. Green infrastructure systems use the natural environment to manage stormwater and provide a suite of co-benefits, including improved water quality to local communities, attracting and retaining a strong workforce, and spurring local investment.

ASCE thanks Reps. Barragán and Turner for their introduction of the Outdoors for All Act and is pleased that the House Natural Resources Committee held a held a hearing on this legislation. We now encourage the House to prioritize parks infrastructure investment and pass H.R. 4512.

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