Increasing Diversity in PA’s Parks Starts with Conversation


Set aside for the enjoyment of the people, parks are arguably the most public of public spaces. But cultural barriers prevent some populations from fully utilizing their neighborhood parks.

That issue was tackled by a panel of organizers, activists and recreation professionals brought together for the most recent Pennsylvania Urban Parks & Recreation Exchange held at the Frick Environmental Center in Pittsburgh.

Deonna Dykes, a volunteer at the Student Conservation Association, said she has had success engaging young, African-Americans in reviving the long-dormant Martin Luther King Community Garden and other parks in the Hill District because she was from “the Hill.”

“I was working with kids in my community,” said Dykes. “It was easy for them to relate to me because I was someone that looked like them.”

Dykes added that some kids don’t grow up thinking of park space as accessible. When she was growing up, the community gardens she has since helped revive were “literally locked and the grass was so high, you couldn’t tell there was a garden.”

Jennifer Layman, the regional vice president of the Student Conservation Association, said that one notion she took from the seminar is that people in minority groups live with a level of discomfort in public. That can be compounded by discomfort with being outdoors, away from the ease of technology, simple comforts and, when venturing out into the woods alone, safety in numbers.

“I think the outdoors itself as a barrier is scary for the first time, or the tenth time,” she said, “because we don’t experience it day to day.”

Read more in the Keystone Edge…

Student Conservation Association