One of the many lessons 2020 has taught us is that access to open, outdoor spaces is more important than ever. Parks provide a number of benefits to communities – improved quality of life, increased tree canopy, wildlife habitat, reduced neighborhood risk to climate change impacts, and higher home values.

On September 14, 2020, Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney announced plans to create 5 new parks on unused city parcels, adding 36 acres of green space to the city. This announcement is particularly important because 51,000 Richmonders currently live farther than a 10-minute walk to a park and only 6% of the city’s land is used for parks and recreation, compared to 15% nationally. To combat this issue, all 5 new park parcels are located on Richmond’s southside, where the average walk to greenspace was the highest and where urban heat islands are an issue.

At the beginning of the year, a “Green Team” of community partners was formed to help the Mayor identify the city-owned land that would become parks and to recommend policies to put in place to ensure the future of these parks. The Alliance’s VA State Director, Nissa Dean, and RiverWise Program Manager, Christina Bonini, served on the Mayor’s Green Team alongside other members of Richmond’s conservation community.

This work helped the Alliance leverage our partnership with RVAH2O and Richmond’s Department of Public Utilities to develop a green infrastructure master plan for the city. In 2019, the Alliance received $1 million in funding from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to institutionalize the use of green infrastructure practices on city-owned lands and increase the effectiveness of Richmond’s Clean Water Plan. This will create measurable improvements to water quality in Richmond’s three priority watersheds – Cannon’s Branch/Shockoe Creek, Gillie’s Creek, and Goose Creek/Manchester Canal. These watersheds have the least amount of green space and trees in the city, and are home to the highest amounts of paved surfaces, which produce a significant amount of polluted stormwater runoff that enters the James River. These watersheds also have the highest urban heat island impacts, lowest life expectancy, and highest presence of heart disease and diabetes. Providing equitable access to green space and increasing tree cover is known to improve all of these problems.

For over 10 years the Alliance has partnered with RVAH2O and DPU to create and enhance green spaces that improve the health of Richmond’s communities, as well as the health of the James River. We’re thrilled to strengthen this partnership by participating on the Mayor’s Green Team and look forward to continuing to support Richmond as it strives towards its sustainability goals.