It is well-known that urban forests and green spaces are important for urban residents, but surprisingly little is known about access issues and peoples’ views on the services such assets offer. Our project, which is implemented with support from and in conjunction with the US Forest Service, seeks to better understand access to urban forests and green spaces and the values diverse groups place on the services they offer.
Urban forests and green spaces provide people with a variety of important benefits, foster sustainability and represents critical environmental assets. These ecosystem services include heat island mitigation, air quality improvements, stormwater runoff mitigation, shading, and aesthetic values. There is also a growing evidence of important human health benefits from urban tree canopy and green space, including better respiratory health, reduced obesity, improved mental health and better social cohesion. As is typical for a variety of benefits, access and enjoyment of these valuable ecosystem services can vary across urban landscapes, leading to unequal distributions of benefits by income and socio-economic class. This recognition has led to concerns about environmental justice surrounding urban and suburban green space areas, including the distribution of benefits and barriers to use .
Portland, Oregon and the surrounding areas provides an ideal setting to analyze issues of access to urban forests and greenspace. Over 17,000 acres of park and urban natural areas exist within the city boundaries of Portland, including the 5,100+ acre Forest Park, one of the largest urban forests in the US. Portland residents also have the opportunity to access four large national forests, including Willamette, Mt Hood, Siuslaw and Gifford Pinchot national forests.
Access to and value of forests and greenspace may vary by socio-demographic group, but relatively little is known about such important issues. It is not well documented how diverse communities value natural areas, or for that matter, what barriers to access exist. Better understanding how use and access vary may help policymakers identify information and recreation-management strategies to improve access for all Portland-area residents, including traditionally underprivileged groups.