Magazine article Parks & Recreation

Addressing Equity in Park Use

Magazine article Parks & Recreation

Addressing Equity in Park Use

Article excerpt

The look of America is changing. Undeniable demographic shifts during the past half-century have shown the makeup of U.S. households is becoming more racially diverse and many residents have seen flat or declining annual incomes. Nonwhite households with lower income levels also report higher incidence of chronic disease, including obesity, diabetes and hypertension. These same households also report lower park usage overall, despite parks and recreation being some of the most accessible and readily available outlets for exercise and connections to nature.

There are many factors that contribute to the state of affairs as described above, and many of them --income inequality, institutionalized racism, stigmas attached to single-parent households, cultural differences, comprehensive healthcare availability, etc.--cannot be wholly addressed through parks and recreation alone. However, leaders in our field can have a significant impact in reaching traditionally underserved communities and encouraging their use of parks. The problems are varied and complicated, but some solutions may be easier than we imagine.

Targeted Communication

In 2011, Yingling Fan, a McKnight Land-Grant assistant professor at the Hubert H. Humphrey School of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota, partnered with several other researchers and the Minneapolis Parks and Recreation Board to quantify the incidence of park use among communities of color in specific Minneapolis neighborhoods. The three study areas were racially and culturally diverse, with a higher than average population of families living below the poverty level, as well as single-parent and minority families. Through surveys and follow-up questionnaires paired with targeted incentives, researchers identified several impediments to park use with the top results including weather, time and a general lack of information. While we can't do much about the weather, park and recreation leaders can play a role in addressing time and awareness concerns.

"There are many different barriers to park use," Fan says. "There needs to be a very coordinated effort including better marketing of the benefits of park use, but at same time, we need to tailor that language and customize it so that the message will be embraced by specific culture groups." Fan says considering the social needs and expectations of Latino, Asian, African-American and Native American groups will inform the way park and recreation programming and available amenities are communicated. …

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