Inequalities in Nature: Communities

Natural areas provide communities with a space for recreation and a resource for improved physical and mental health. However, many families do not have access to nature due to the community and resources available to them. In this article, we will discuss several inequalities in nature and what families and policymakers can do to combat this problem.

Inequalities in Nature

There is a history of environmental racism that should be addressed to understand why these inequities are occurring. Most of the information below is from The Nature Gap: Confronting Racial and Economic Disparities in the Destruction and Protection of Nature in America. To understand the full extent of inequalities in nature, please read their report.

“Communities of color are three times more likely than white communities to live in a place that is nature deprived.”

The United States has systematically excluded people of color from public lands and natural places. Settler-colonists displaced Native Americans from their land, and many people of color experience violence and threats and are excluded from nature and the conservation movement. Many individuals do not feel safe and often feel threatened when in nature. There is also an underrepresentation of people of color in hiring for natural resource agencies, and they may not be included in the history of these lands.

Nature’s distribution and gatekeeping must be understood to work towards a better environment for all. Not having access to nature (or not feeling safe to go into nature) can affect your health and developmental outcomes, especially for children.

Photo by Eli Pousson (2017)

How might this affect you or your family?

Within the literature, we see multiple findings that display the importance of nature on health. Children who spend more time outdoors may experience improved cognitive abilities, reduced stress, and enhanced social skills (Strife & Downey, 2009). Even though we know nature is essential for child development, research shows that children’s experiences in nature are rapidly declining (Strife & Downey, 2009; Faber-Taylor & Kuo, 2006). This may be due to technological advances, safety and crime in neighborhoods, or increases in indoor programming for children.

During the past few years, new research emerged that found connections between nature inequality and COVID-19 rates. Researchers found that communities with the majority of persons of color had higher case rates and less greenness available to them (Spotswood et al., 2021). This is alarming, especially when other researchers found that nature may play a key role in helping mental health outcomes during the COVID-19 pandemic (Soga et al., 2021). These findings highlight the continued inequalities these communities face and how multiple confounding factors may influence individuals’ health in specific communities.

Green spaces also help families and children interact and may promote trust and safety. Researchers have found that green public settings encourage all ages to interact and can decrease crime and increase positive perceptions within a community (Kuo et al., 1998). Time in nature may also influence a family dynamic and provide a pathway for positive family functioning (Izenstark & Ebata, 2016). Therefore, to feel safe and promote positive development in children, families, and all individuals, communities need more access to safe green spaces.

What can you do to help make nature more equitable?

Depending on your privilege and access, there may be several actionable steps that you can take to improve your and other communities’ access to nature. Below is a list of actions you (or others you may know) can take to make communities safer and more inclusive.

This is not an exhaustive list, so please add more ideas in the comments!

  1. Teach and learn about the history of the United States outdoor and natural spaces.
  2. Make visitors of all parks feel secure and welcome in the environment.
  3. Create and lobby for inclusive, diversity, and equity policies in ALL spaces.
  4. Make access to natural spaces more accessible to all. This might include providing funding for new parks and access programs in areas with fewer natural resources.
  5. Increase engagement with communities and empower them to lead in decision-making. Staff and leadership should reflect the communities they serve.
  6. End the childhood nature access gap through education and outreach programs

You should always continue to educate yourself, and you can do that by reading the references and resources below!


Faber Taylor, A., & Kuo, F. E. (2006). Is contact with nature important for healthy child development? State of the evidence. In C. Spencer & M. Blades (Eds.), Children and their environments: Learning, using and designing spaces (pp. 124-140). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Izenstark, D., & Ebata, A. T. (2016). Theorizing family‐based nature activities and family functioning: The integration of attention restoration theory with a family routines and rituals perspective. Journal of Family Theory & Review, 8(2), 137-153.

Kuo, F., Sullivan, W., Coley, R., & Brunson, L. (1998). Fertile ground for community: Inner-city neighborhood common spaces. American Journal of Community Psychology, 26, 823-851.

Kuo, M. (2015). How might contact with nature promote human health? Promising mechanisms and a possible central pathway. Frontiers in Psychology, 1093.

Soga, M., Evans, M. J., Tsuchiya, K., & Fukano, Y. (2021). A room with a green view: the importance of nearby nature for mental health during the COVID‐19 pandemic. Ecological Applications, 31(2), e2248.

Spotswood, E. N., Benjamin, M., Stoneburner, L., Wheeler, M. M., Beller, E. E., Balk, D., … & McDonald, R. I. (2021). Nature inequity and higher COVID-19 case rates in less-green neighborhoods in the United States. Nature Sustainability, 4(12), 1092-1098.

Strife, S., & Downey, L. (2009). Childhood development and access to nature: A new direction for environmental inequality research. Organization & Environment, 22(1), 99-122. 10.1177/1086026609333340

Additional Resource:

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