The US is rich in love of the outdoors but poor in access and infrastructure — especially for communities in dense, urban areas; over 100M people do not have a public park or green space within a 10-minute walk from home.
Today, REI Co-op launched a multiyear, nationwide initiative to ensure everyone in the US has immediate access to outdoor nature. Outside in 5 is a community-led initiative that supports local projects and national legislation in pursuit of its goal of getting 100 million people outside in five minutes or less, no matter where they live. The co-op will also be putting $5 from every co-op membership towards the REI Cooperative Action Fund, which supports organizations and projects that will help everyone get Outside in 5.
Data from the Trust for Public Land (TPL) show the US is rich in enthusiasm for the outdoors, but poor in access and infrastructure — especially for communities in dense, urban areas that have been historically and systemically disenfranchised. Over a third of people living in the US do not have a public park or space to recreate within a 10-minute walk from home; that fact spawned the TPL’s 10 Minute Walk movement to expand access to parks and green spaces across 300 US cities, launched in 2017.
“This problem did not just happen,” said REI CEO Eric Artz. “It is the result of centuries of planning decisions that oftentimes served to further isolate and marginalize underrepresented communities. At REI, we believe everyone should have access to outdoor space wherever they live. That’s why we’re making a long-term commitment to get 100m people outside in five minutes or less.”
Not only is outdoor recreation a major driver of the US economy, a growing body of research indicates that time spent outside has direct benefits for our physical, mental and emotional wellbeing. In 2015, REI launched its #OptOutside campaign and closed its doors on Black Friday in what became a yearly reminder to its customers and employees to spend the day after Thanksgiving enjoying the outdoors instead of participating in the annual shopping frenzy. But for many, "opting outside" isn't as easy as it sounds — the extent of inequitable access to nature for many urban communities across the country became glaringly obvious during the pandemic; and since then, legislation such as the Great American Outdoors Act and initiatives from REI peers Clif Bar and The North Face have been dedicated to rectifying it — but decades of flawed urban planning policies haven't been so quick to reverse.
Corporate Political Responsibility in an Environment of Distrust
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Outside in 5 kicks off today in Washington, DC’s Anacostia Park neighborhood — a historically Black community and home to the relatively new National Park site that is emblematic of many others across the country that have suffered from a systemic loss of access to the outdoors. Despite its namesake park, the community still has limited access to green space. Anacostia has been impacted by racial and economic inequities — from the establishment of racially segregated recreation areas to the sewage infrastructure that polluted the Anacostia River to the construction of Interstate 295, which cut surrounding neighborhoods off from the park that was once accessible to them.
In Anacostia, as will be true everywhere REI introduces the initiative, Outside in 5 will work to address the community’s specific needs. Friends of Anacostia Park — with the support of REI, the REI Cooperative Action Fund and the National Park Service — is working to reconnect the Anacostia community to the National Park in their own backyard.
“The legacy of inequitable development hangs over Anacostia Park — with thousands of residents still struggling to access the National Park in their backyard,” said Richard Trent, Executive Director of Friends of Anacostia Park. “But coalitions like ours — that unite engaged citizens, civic-minded corporations and accountable administrators — contain the know-how and wherewithal needed to undo that toxic legacy and expand access to green space to the communities that need it most.”
The co-op will join Council on Environmental Quality Chair Brenda Mallory, author and policy advocate Heather McGhee, and other community leaders in Anacostia Park this morning to unveil a national playbook for Outside in 5. The launch culminates with the Late Skate Summer Event Series — a fair and festival in support of the “rooted at Anacostia Park” program.
Taking Outside in 5 nationwide
Whether you live in a neighborhood with limited access to parks and trails, one without adequate public transit to those places, or even a place with ample — but inequitable — access, there are challenges to recreating outside that every one of us can help address. In the years ahead, REI pledges to bring this work to more communities across the country as part of its broader efforts to inspire actions on climate change and equitable access to the outdoors.
This fall, the REI Cooperative Action Fund will announce more than 250 local nonprofits that will help advance the company’s Outside in 5 mission. While every organization is unique, each:
Shares the goal of creating a more equitable outdoors
Centers the unique needs of their community
Will benefit from the strength of REI’s nationwide community of employees, members and customers to support and amplify these impactful and inspiring organizations.
REI is also tapping its 23-million-member community by asking everyone to join the Cooperative Action Network and help pass the Outdoors for All Act — which would help close the nature gap by securing funding for green spaces in underserved communities so everyone can enjoy time outside.
“We do our best work when we do it together,” Artz said. “I’m excited to partner with our employees, members, communities, advocacy groups and governmental organizations across the country in pursuit of this goal. Together, we can remove barriers to a life outside for all.”
For more information, or to find out how you can join this effort, visit rei.com/outsidein5.