Elevating open space in community development

A community development finance institution, NJCC is centering open space and health equity in its portfolio, and in a Paterson, NJ community planning process.


A living legacy of environmental racism

From redlining to pollutants, Paterson, NJ, is one of many U.S. communities of color that has experienced sustained spatial and environmental injustice. The fourth-densest city in the country, Paterson’s park acreage per capita is far below the median for high-density cities — 2.1 acres per 1,000 residents, compared to a median of 6.7 acres per 1,000 residents (1).

Improving access to open space is not just an environmental imperative, but a health one, too. For example, in the Northside of Paterson, almost 39% of adults report lower than recommended levels of physical activity. There is growing momentum across sectors (e.g., local government, healthcare, education) to elevate green public spaces as recreational spaces as well as sites for healing, restoration, community, and economic development.


1) City of Paterson, NJ Parks & Open Space Vision 2021


Community development without our say and without our participation is what got us to this moment. The reason why we are talking about prioritizing open space now is because it has been taken from us over the years.



Embedding open space into its mission and operations

Within its organization, NJCC has taken a range of measures to institutionalize the IHP Framework and a commitment to health equity in all aspects of NJCC’s work — how it engages, plans, builds, invests, and measures impact in community development projects:

For example, the Framework is being applied to:

  • Create a shared language · Leadership has held orientations with different departments to socialize the Framework.
  • Revamp engagement protocols · For example, its Community Engagement & Interview Protocol has a new section and an entire interview session dedicated to public spaces.
  • Update investment approaches · Open space is now a priority element of NJCC's place-based investment decisions.

Elevating open space in local planning processes

In the community, NJCC is using the Framework through a multi-pronged approach.

For example, the Framework is being applied to:

  • Guide local planning · NJCC is leveraging the Framework in the development and implementation of two community redevelopment plans for Paterson’s Great Falls and North Ward neighborhoods, and for the city’s Green Infrastructure Vision Plan
  • Support local organizations · NJCC is introducing the Framework to grassroots non-profits as they seek to embed open space into their projects.
  • Measure progress · NJCC is working with the City of Paterson's Chief Data Officer and the Department of Parks and Recreation to set metrics that gauge quality, access, belonging, and usability of open spaces.
  • Expand open space funding opportunities · NJCC is using the Framework as an evidence base for adding green public spaces to the NJ Neighborhood Revitalization Tax Credit plans; as a result, communities will be able to leverage public-private funding for such open space projects.

Building healthier neighborhoods allows us to practice truth, reconciliation and healing in our planning and development processes and policies.


We’re cooking and eating all at once. ... Ultimately, we would like to infuse green spaces in the way we plan, build, and invest in community development — this is the beginning of a culture change.


We’re being intentional in allocating land in redevelopment plans that lets us intersect and align development of shelter, food and green spaces.