Inclusionary Trail Planning Toolkit

A guide to planning and programming equitable trail networks

This report will discuss how community organizing principles and practices can help organizations and agencies connect with the communities they are working in to achieve comprehensive community engagement. As a lack of resources is a common obstacle to achieving an inclusive process, Section Three of this report outlines low cost outreach methods and emphasizes the importance of leveraging existing community based resources.

by Pennsylvania Environmental Council (Harrisburg Office)


Inclusive Trail Report PEC


Trails and parks are community assets that ideally serve the needs of their surrounding communities. These spaces provide the opportunity for exercise, active transportation, outdoor recreation, and gathering together. Studies show that access to green space improves health and wellbeing while also providing environmental benefits such as retaining stormwater, lowering ambient temperature, and restoring animal habitat. Trails also improve connectivity between neighborhoods and provide alternative transportation options. Considering these benefits and opportunities, it is no surprise that green spaces are playing an important role in the revitalization of post-industrial cities nationwide. From the Capital Crescent Trail in Washington, DC to Railroad Park in Birmingham, Alabama, parks have improved the local economy and attracted new development.

Multi-use trails can encourage people to be active and feel connected to their neighborhood. As trails improve connectivity between neighborhoods, it becomes easier and more desirable for people and amenities to move into new spaces along the trail. Indeed, access to green space with welcoming, low-stress facilities for walking and biking are desirable characteristics of a neighborhood and attract new development in the area. While new development can have very positive effects in a community, new amenities may come with the unintended consequences of increasing property values, displacing residents, and shifting demographics. This report does not discuss the geographic distribution of trails and parks in depth, but it deals with community engagement around open space development that focuses on improving the quality of life for existing residents and creating more equitable spaces by prioritizing historically disenfranchised groups.

For new trails and parks to best serve existing communities, it is important to plan them with support and input from the current surrounding community. The process of achieving community buy-in is not always clear, however. As planners seek to build new or improved public spaces, it is important to consider all the potential effects these new spaces could have on the surrounding communities. Non-profit and advocacy organizations play an important role in supporting the outreach efforts of urban planners by providing a critical link to the community. This report will use case studies to outline best practices in inclusionary planning, and will provide a tool kit to help non-profit organizations and planning agencies do inclusive trail development.

Published January 01, 2018

About the Author


The Pennsylvania Environmental Council (PEC) protects and restores the natural and built environments through innovation, collaboration, education and advocacy. PEC believes in the value of partnerships with the private sector, government, communities and individuals to improve the quality of life for all Pennsylvanians.

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