Photo: Pinnacles National Park near Hollister, California. Critics of the infrastructure bill currently floating through Congress says it doesn't prove enough investment for outdoor spaces.
The on-again, off-again, kind-of-sort-of bipartisan bipartisan infrastructure bill that may or may not pass is now on the table. It’s less than half of what the Biden administration originally wanted, but by just about any measure it is still an ambitious proposal. Along with a promise to fund traditional notions of infrastructure such as roads, bridges, rail, ports, airports and much-needed water systems, the trillion-dollar package also pledges a boost for broadband access, clean energy and technology for road safety.
Like most legislation that wades through the dangerous and unpredictable undertows known as the U.S. Congress, the infrastructure bill is imperfect legislation that will not satisfy everyone. Nevertheless, much of the bill’s proposed expenditures were unthinkable a decade ago – as in the provisions that can help take on climate change. Some are obvious: more investments in renewables and upgrades to the country’s electric grid. Others are incremental, such as fixing more roads and bridges, which means more efficient traffic and less emissions spewed into the atmosphere. For communities long overlooked by both U.S. leaders and their wealthier, better-connected neighbors, about $1 billion will reconstruct neighborhoods demolished by highways, to be replaced by local street grids and parks.
To that end, at least one industry group is waxing enthusiasm over the infrastructure bill.
The Outdoor Industry Association (OIA), which represents some of the most recognized apparel, equipment and retail brands that are dependent on the great outdoors, is supportive of this legislation. And why wouldn’t it be, as climate change threatens the long-term viability of this sector; in fact, plenty of businesses that rely on citizens enjoying outdoor activities are under threat now as much of the western U.S. is under siege by drought, wildfires or that recent heat wave.
With that support of the infrastructure bill in its current form, however, comes a note of caution.
“In addition to climate provisions, federal investments in parks and trails are also needed. The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the importance of easily accessible green spaces, yet more than 100 million Americans still do not live within a 10-minute walk to a park,” said the OIA's executive director, Lise Aangeenbrug, in an emailed statement. “Outdoor spaces provide countless economic, mental, and physical health benefits for every community, regardless of zip code. We are encouraged to see the inclusion of parks and trails as a key part of America’s infrastructure in this bill.”
While the infrastructure bill in its latest form would still allocate some public monies to refurbishing open spaces and trails, therein lies one criticism we can expect to hear in the coming days and weeks as this legislation becomes debated in Congress. The OIA and other advocacy groups have pointed to research from a study from The Trust for Public Land that has concluded that at least 100 million Americans – including 28 million children – live more than a 10-minute walk away from a park.
The OIA’s push for more open space follows the advocacy that it and its members have championed in recent years. Such activism has included a push for the entire outdoor and recreation sector to become climate positive, adapt how we enjoy our open spaces despite the realities of the pandemic and strive to clean up the industry’s supply chain.
It’s not only the OIA that is urging more public spending on parks and open spaces. Recalling the work of the 19th-century landscape architect and visionary for Central Park Frederick Law Olmstead, Anne Neal Petri for Roll Call echoed the need for more parks and the need to view them essential as any other form of infrastructure. “These spaces aren’t just vital for our quality of life; they are essential ecological, social, and cultural infrastructure,” she wrote.
Photo of Pinnacles National Park courtesy Leon Kaye
Leon Kaye has written for TriplePundit since 2010, and became its Executive Editor in 2018. He's based in Fresno, CA, from where he happily explores California’s stellar Central Coast and the national parks in the Sierra Nevadas. He's worked an lived in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay, and has traveled to over 70 countries. He's an alum of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the University of Southern California.