In one of the first of its kind studies in the South, a research social scientist with the Forest Service Southern Research Station recently examined Latino access to local public lands in Hall County, Ga.
Census-track-based information from studies like this can help municipal and county planners develop strategies to address public land access by minority communities.
Researcher Cassandra Johnson Gaither found that since 1990, Latinos have migrated or immigrated to nontraditional areas of the South—basically states other than Florida—at unprecedented rates. The Latino populations in some southern states have increased by 300 to 400 percent. This growth places demands on these areas from a pure numbers standpoint, but the associated cultural shift can’t be ignored.
“There are very few studies of Latinos’ access to parks in these new destination areas,” says Johnson-Gaither. “This is an important issue for urban foresters, park managers, and city planners. Urban parks and forests may be the only natural resource available to newly-settled, lower-income residents, who may not own cars or have access to good public transportation.”
To determine whether Latinos in Hall County, Ga., had equitable access to parks, Johnson-Gaither used U.S. Census data to map out where Latinos lived. She estimated the mean number of all Hall County residents living within walking distance (a quarter mile) of park entrances. Then she compared walking distances to park entrances by different social groups.
“On average, there were more whites compared to either Latinos or African Americans living within short walking distance of a park,” says Johnson-Gaither. “However, in Hall County, Latinos now live in areas that used to be working class white communities. The former residents also did not have as much access to parks as the more affluent, mostly white communities in other parts of the county.”
Strategies could include converting land from existing uses or establishing land sharing initiatives with schools and churches. The larger and arguably more important task, however, is for city leaders and community organizers to think about all demographics when planning the size and location of public parks and facilities.
Read the full text of the research article: http://www.srs.fs.usda.gov/pubs/39934