In search of equity in the outdoors

This week’s blog comes from Sarah Coles, Executive Director of Texas Children in Nature.

For thousands of years nature has served as a place of respite, rejuvenation, and solace for people across the world. However, with the advent of the industrial revolution, more of the world moved from its agricultural roots and into cities, and with systemic racism and class division, cities were divided according to where people could live – both legally and by tradition. As urban centers grew and began to build green spaces into their city plans, these spaces were placed into primarily white and wealthy neighborhoods – as this is where the decision makers lived, and those spaces in other areas of the city were often if built, not maintained. In the almost 200 years since the beginning of the industrial revolution, access to nature has become a growing sign of systemic racism in our cities – as many of our cities’ residents do not have easy access to nature near them. Research has shown that children who spend more time in nature are happier, healthier, and smarter, but are all children gaining these benefits of nature?

Photo courtesy of Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.

In 2009 the Texas Legislature passed resolution HB205. This House Bill instructed Texas Parks and Wildlife (TPWD) and the Texas Education Agency to start to work towards a solution to the growing problem of children not spending enough time outside. In 2010 Texas Children in Nature Network (TCiNN) was born, a program created by nature and education leaders from across the state inspired by Richard Louv’s Last Child in the Woods. TCiNN would be program incubated under TPWD for ten years and was given a chance to grow. The organization is a collaborative of over 600 partner organizations and individuals across the state working towards the goal of more children and families spending time outside in nature.

TCiNN is organized in two connected ways – horizontally into eight regions and vertically into seven strategic areas of interest. Our eight regions are Caprock, North Texas, Austin, San Antonio, Pineywoods, Houston, Coastal Bend, and the Rio Grande Valley. We are looking to expand into the El Paso and Waco regions soon. Our seven strategic areas of interest are Education, Health, Community, Access, Marketing, Leadership, and Equity. One of the things that makes TCiNN unique in our role in Texas is our holistic approach to the question of children spending time in nature. We engage not only environmental educators – but also community members, health care providers, urban planners, government officials and more.

In 2019 TCiN began the process of transitioning out from TPWD and becoming its own 501(c)(3). This process brought about lots of new changes at TCiNN including lots of visioning work as we start a new non-profit and the reworking of the mission statement. The mission of the new TCiNN non-profit is to ensure equitable access and connection to nature for all children in Texas. TCiNN will be able to use its platform as a non-governmental organization to advocate to government officials and influencers more or equitable access and connection to nature for the children in Texas – a position that was not possible in the past.

As TCiNN looks at the statistics that 10% of the United States school aged children live in the state of Texas, 1/3 of those children are obese, and that the average child spends 50 hours a week in front of a screen (more now that much of school is done virtually) and as little as only one hour a week in nature we are faced with searching for not just solutions but also reasons for this disparity. Equitable access to nature is a major factor as to why many children do not spend as much time in nature as generations past. With this in mind, TCiNN placed equity at the beginning of our 2021 strategic planning process. As we complete the process we are happy to see that equitable access to nature is at the core of our goals for the next three years.

For more info about equity in nature click through the resources below (please know this isn’t exhaustive just a few places to start):

Photo courtesy of Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.

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