“Nature-based solutions.” That’s the phrase the White House uses in its most recent call to action for communities nationwide. The Biden-Harris administration expressed a strong commitment to environmental justice and building more resilient, healthy, and equitable places for children to thrive. It’s made historic levels of funding available to back these efforts.
Last month, it went one step further by “calling on the private sector, foundations, academic institutions, educators, health care providers, and individuals to join the mission.” The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) issued an “Invest in Nature Call to Action.” The request invites partners to submit new and expanded efforts to invest in jobs, youth, and resilient cities and communities – through nature. OSTP continues to accept commitments through March of 2024.
For the Cities Connecting Children to Nature (CCCN) initiative, a 9-year-long partnership between the National League of Cities and Children & Nature Network, OSTP’s call to action was the perfect way to celebrate April as Earth Month. CCCN is a network of over 50 sites nationwide committed to expanding children’s equitable access to nature. This year CCCN commits to invest $1.5 million – and more in coming years – in training, technical assistance, and catalytic support to expand the policies, programs, and green infrastructure needed to ensure equitable access to nature for children 0-17, in parks, schoolyards, and early childhood settings across 25 sites.
In addition to CCCN’s overall investment in nature, many of the sites involved in the network submitted individual commitments as part of their continued commitment to improving children’s equitable access to nature. Below is a small sample.
- Atlanta, GA: The Atlanta Community School Parks Initiative (ACSPI) is a coalition of the City of Atlanta, Atlanta Public Schools (APS), and four non-profit partners (Trust for Public Land, KABOOM!, and the Cities Connecting Children to Nature Initiative). Their shared vision is that, by 2030, every APS school should have a Community School Park that supports the healthy development, success, and well-being of Atlanta’s kids and communities. In the coming year, ACSPI commits to a $2 million investment ($1 million in public funds matched by philanthropic dollars), to transform 6 school park sites.
- Austin, TX: The City of Austin has a broad network of partners working collectively to bring nature to children. The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center will expand learning opportunities through native plant habitats, career-focused learning experiences for older children, expanding early childhood centers with native plants and outdoor play and providing professional development opportunities for early childhood staff. In addition, the City of Austin and Austin Independent School District have a strong partnership that will expand access to outdoor learning environments at local schools to support teaching and learning in nature. Actions planned include adding tree canopies, rain gardens, learning ponds, nature play spaces, and more.
- Baltimore, MD: Inward Discovery Grows Outdoors’, a citywide initiative, new and expanding commitments this year include a new outdoor classroom and playground installation, stream restoration and watershed education, educator professional development and curriculum support, expanded access to outdoor field trips and experiences, and a farming program.
- Cleveland, OH: Western Reserve Land Conservancy (Cleveland, OH) is working closely with their partners in Cleveland and Euclid to ensure that children in the region have equitable access to the outdoors. The first task is to engage with youth and community leaders to establish a Children’s Outdoor Bill of Rights (COBOR) for the region. This document will advocate for youth, providing a framework of nature-based experiences that every child will accomplish as they grow up. They commit to implementing and tracking its success, addressing inequities along the way.
- Houston, TX: The Mayor’s Office of Education and Youth Engagement recently launched the Houston Children’s Outdoor Bill of Rights as part of the Cities Connecting Children to Nature (CCCN) initiative. The bill includes 12 rights that illustrate what equitable nature accessibility looks like in our city and has been endorsed by Dr. Bob Bullard, the “father of environmental justice.” Here is a short video of Mayor Turner speaking about the initiative. Each right in the bill is a commitment and promise our city has made to all our children and youth to invest in the following to promote equitable access to the outdoors.
- Louisville, KY: Louisville ECHO is a multi-partner environmental education and outdoor recreation program initiative. ECHO serves 2500-3000 youth per year, creating “cradle-to-career” access to nature, and supports city goals related to equity, health, and education. Louisville Parks and Recreation’s Natural Areas Division will continue to serve area youth and promote equitable access to and investment in nature.
- Philadelphia, PA: The City of Philadelphia’s Rebuilding Community Infrastructure initiative (Rebuild) is a historic investment of hundreds of millions of dollars to refurbish public parks, recreation centers, and libraries to provide safe and attractive spaces for recreation and education, community services, and other essential programs. Rebuild is investing $1,500,000 into the renovation of Cobbs Creek Playground in West Philadelphia. Cobbs Creek Playground will be unlike any other in Philadelphia, with its play spaces intentionally designed to honor its location beside the Cobbs Creek Environmental Center by using materials that reflect nature’s elements of trails, hills, and sticks. Construction is anticipated to be complete by May 2023.
- Tucson, AZ: The United Way of Tucson and Southern Arizona and its partners are working to increase nature-based opportunities for young children in Pima County so that all children have a strong start in learning and life. Led by United Way of Tucson and Southern Arizona, Prescott College, and Pima County Natural Resources Parks and Recreation, the Pima County Children and Nature initiative held its first convening in Jan 2023 and aims to connect diverse stakeholders to work together to increase access to nature for all children in Pima County.
These are a small sample of the many ways that cities and their partners across the country are using nature-based solutions to achieve a variety of city goals connected to education, health and well-being, climate resiliency, equity and more.
By having the White House place emphasis and spotlight these nature-based commitments it creates an even stronger push for these efforts to grow and expand. This Earth Month, we couldn’t be more excited to share these commitments to enhancing children’s connections to nature. We encourage other cities across the country to join us in these efforts. Share your commitment with the White House before March 2024 and add to the national momentum of bringing nature’s many proven benefits to children in your city.