Congresswoman Tsongas introduces bipartisan legislation to help urban communities develop public parks and green space

Press Release From Congresswoman Niki Tsongas, Massachusetts Fifth Congressional District

Contact John Noble phone: 202.225.3411

WASHINGTON, DC – April 22, 2010 – On Earth Day, Fifth District Congresswoman Niki Tsongas introduced legislation which would help urban communities turn blighted environments and brownfields sites into public parks or other usable green spaces. Tsongas’ bipartisan bill, entitled the Groundwork USA Trust Act of 2010, would strengthen the existing Groundwork USA (GWUSA) program, which provides federal funding to local communities and nonprofit organizations for green-space projects. The idea for the legislation was developed with Groundwork Lawrence, a nonprofit organization in Lawrence which has had several projects funded through the program, including the construction of community gardens, riverfront trails, and playgrounds. Groundwork USA is also a proven job creation tool. In economically challenged cities, the 17 GWUSA Trusts have created 131 full - or part-time jobs.

“Creating green-space and public parks in urban communities is an excellent way to revitalize neighborhoods and further economic development in our cities,” said Congresswoman Niki Tsongas. “Older cities, like those in the Merrimack Valley that I represent, are often forced to cope with blighted landscapes at former industrial sites. The City of Lawrence has worked extensively with Groundwork Lawrence to transform blighted areas of the city into usable community space. However, GWUSA has the potential to reach far more communities and have an even greater positive impact than its current structure allows and that is why I have introduced this legislation today.”

Currently, GWUSA receives funding for green-space projects, known as Trusts, through the EPA and National Park Service. However, funding for Groundwork projects can be sporadic and unreliable, leading to a long back-log of proposals from communities that meet the necessary requirements for support and will greatly benefit our communities but which ultimately go unfunded. Tsongas’ legislation would create a dedicated funding stream to ensure continued support of the Groundwork USA program and provide stability for the program, and the impressive organizations it supports, by centralizing its administration through the National Parks Service.

Under Tsongas’ bill, the Groundwork USA Trust Program would provide grants of up to $400,000 to local communities for development programs that address brownfields and blighted urban environments. The total authorization would be $15 million for each fiscal year through FY2015, which would allow Groundwork USA to produce 5-8 new Trusts each year. Last year alone, every dollar that the EPA invested in GWUSA projects was leveraged to $15 by local Trusts.

“This legislation is extremely valuable to Lawrence as it will support our efforts to leverage public, private, and foundation dollars to continue our urban revitalization efforts in Lawrence,” said Heather McMann, Executive Director of Groundwork Lawrence. “As Groundwork Lawrence prepares to celebrate its 10th year anniversary we are excited by the momentum to reclaim vacant lots for community and schoolyard gardens, design and build pedestrian and bike trails reclaiming the City’s alleyways and three rivers, and tackling climate change through tree plantings.”

Since 2001, Groundwork Lawrence has completed over $6 million in public open space improvement projects while receiving only $240,000 in seed funding: a $24 to $1 ratio. Most importantly, 100% of these projects have taken place in Lawrence’s lowest-income environmental neighborhoods.

Joining Congresswoman Tsongas in introducing the legislation today are Reps. Alberto Sires (D-NJ), Joseph Cao (R-LA), Donald Payne (D-NJ), Keith Ellison (D-MN), Gwen Moore (D-WI), Nita Lowey (D-NY), Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC).

Groundwork USA is a network of nearly twenty independent, non-profit community development organizations called Groundwork 'Trusts' that are linked together as the Groundwork USA national network. GWUSA Trusts encourage a sense of common purpose and engage residents in giving back to their community. In 2009, GWUSA Trusts engaged residents in over 57,000 hours of volunteer service in their neighborhoods, and involved nearly 400 businesses in their work to improve their communities.