Parks and people: An environmental justice inquiry in Baltimore, Maryland

Christopher Boone, Geoffrey L. Buckley, J. Morgan Grove, Chona Sister

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

562 Scopus citations


This article examines the distribution of parks in Baltimore, Maryland, as an environmental justice issue. In addition to established methods for measuring distribution of and access to parks, we employ a novel park service area approach that uses Thiessen polygons and dasymetric reapportioning of census data to measure potential park congestion as an equity outcome measure. We find that a higher proportion of African Americans have access to parks within walking distance, defined as 400 meters or less, than whites, but whites have access to more acreage of parks within walking distance than blacks. A needs-based assessment shows that areas with the highest need have the best access to parks but also have access to less acreage of parks compared to low-need areas. Park service areas that are predominantly black have higher park congestion than areas that are predominantly white, although differences are less apparent at the city level than at the metropolitan level. Following Iris Young and others, we argue that conceptions of justice must move beyond distributive justice and address the social and institutional mechanisms that generate inequities. For Baltimore, we examine how segregation ordinances, racial covenants, improvement associations, the Home Owners Loan Corporation, and the Parks and Recreation Board created separate black spaces historically underserved with parks. These mechanisms ultimately fueled middle-class flight and suburbanization and black inheritance of much of Baltimore's space, including its parks. If justice demands just distribution justly achieved, the present-day pattern of parks in Baltimore should be interpreted as environmental injustice.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)767-787
Number of pages21
JournalAnnals of the Association of American Geographers
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 2009


  • Baltimore
  • Environmental justice
  • Parks
  • Segregation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Earth-Surface Processes


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