Journal of Urban Health

, Volume 95, Issue 2, pp 222–231 | Cite as

Park Use in Low-Income Urban Neighborhoods: Who Uses the Parks and Why?

  • Christine A. VaughanEmail author
  • Natalie Colabianchi
  • Gerald P. Hunter
  • Robin Beckman
  • Tamara Dubowitz


We examined individual and environmental influences on park use among residents of two low-income predominantly African American neighborhoods to identify determinants of park use in lower-income urban neighborhoods. We analyzed data from interviews of 1003 individuals randomly selected from the neighborhoods, systematic observations of neighborhood parks, and police-recorded crime incidence within a .5-mi buffer around each park. Most participants (82.4%) had previously visited a neighborhood park, and nearly half (46.2%) had visited one in the past month. However, only 8.5% of participants were aware of their closest park. Compared with the parks closest to home, parks that participants reported visiting most were larger and had more amenities and features and fewer incivilities and reported crimes of a serious nature. Park use among residents of lower-income neighborhoods may be increased by offering more amenities and features and ensuring the presence of a well-appointed park within easy walking distance of residents’ homes.


Crime-related Low income Recreation/leisure Parks/trails Urban 



This research was supported by a grant from the National Cancer Institute (R01CA164137-01; Dubowitz PI). The authors wish to thank La’Vette Wagner, field coordinator of the Pittsburgh Hill/Homewood Research on Eating, Shopping, and Health study; the data collection staff; Stephanie Lonsinger, who assisted with all administrative aspects of these studies; and Alvin Nugroho for assistance with manuscript preparation. The authors also thank the Hill House Association, Operation Better Block, and Homewood Children’s Village.


  1. 1.
    Cohen DA, Han B, Nagel CJ, Harnik P, McKenzie TL, Evenson KR, et al. The first national study of neighborhood parks: implications for physical activity. Am J Prev Med. 2016;51(4):419–26.
  2. 2.
    Bedimo-Rung AL, Mowen AJ, Cohen DA. The significance of parks to physical activity and public health: a conceptual model. Am J Prev Med. 2005;28(2S2):159–68. Scholar
  3. 3.
    Salllis JF, Floyd MF, Rodriguez DA, Saelens BE. Role of built environments in physical activity, obesity, and cardiovascular disease. Circulation. 2012;125(5):729–37. Scholar
  4. 4.
    Das KV, Fan Y, French SA. Park-use behavior and perceptions by race, Hispanic origin, and immigrant status in Minneapolis, MN: implications on park strategies for addressing health disparities. J Immigr Minor Health. 2016:1–10.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Van Dyck D, Sallis JF, Cardon G, Deforche B, Adams MA, Geremia C, et al. Associations of neighborhood characteristics with active park use: an observational study in two cities in the USA and Belgium. Int J Health Geogr. 2013;12(1):26.
  6. 6.
    Cohen DA, McKenzie TL, Sehgal A, Williamson S, Golinelli D, Lurie N. Contribution of public parks to physical activity. Am J Public Health. 2007;97(3):509–14. Scholar
  7. 7.
    Baran PK, Smith WR, Moore RC, Floyd MF, Bocarro JN, Cosco NG, et al. Park use among youth and adults: examination of individual, social, and urban form factors. Environ Behav. 2014;46(6):768–800.
  8. 8.
    Giles-Corti B, Broomhall MH, Knuiman M, Collins C, Douglas K, Ng K, et al. Increasing walking: how important is distance to, attractiveness, and size of public open space? Am J Prev Med. 2005;28(2S2):169–76.
  9. 9.
    Lapham SC, Cohen DA, Han B, et al. How important is perception of safety to park use? A four-city survey. Urban Stud. 2015;53(12):2624–36.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. 10.
    Ries AV, Voorhees CC, Roche KM, Gittelsohn J, Yan AF, Astone NM. A quantitative examination of park characteristics related to park use and physical activity among urban youth. J Adolesc Health. 2009;45(3, Supplement):S64–70.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  11. 11.
    Kaczynski AT, Potwarka LR, Saelens BE. Association of park size, distance, and features with physical activity in neighborhood parks. Am J Public Health. 2008;98(8):1451–6. Scholar
  12. 12.
    Cohen DA, Han B, Isacoff J, Shulaker B, Williamson S, Marsh T, et al. Impact of park renovations on park use and park-based physical activity. J Phys Act Health. 2015;12(2):289–95.
  13. 13.
    Lee Y-S, Levy SS. Gender and income associations in physical activity and blood pressure among older adults. J Phys Act Health. 2011;8(1):1–9. Scholar
  14. 14.
    Adler NE, Stewart J. Health disparities across the lifespan: meaning, methods, and mechanisms. Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2010;1186(1):5–23. Scholar
  15. 15.
    Haskell WL, Lee I-M, Pate RR, Powell KE, Blair SN, Franklin BA, et al. Physical activity and public health: updated recommendations for adults from the American College of Sports Medicine and the American Heart Association. Circulation. 2007;116(9):1081–93.
  16. 16.
    Dubowitz T, Ghosh-Dastidar M, Cohen DA, Beckman R, Steiner ED, Hunter GP, et al. Diet and perceptions change with supermarket introduction in a food desert, but not because of supermarket use. Health Aff. 2015;34(11):1858–68.
  17. 17.
    Mujahid MS, Diez Roux AV, Morenoff JD, Raghunathan T. Assessing the measurement properties of neighborhood scales: from psychometrics to ecometrics. Am J Epidemiol. 2007;165(8):858–67. Scholar
  18. 18.
    Ware JE, Snow KK, Kosinski M, Gandek B. SF-36 health survey: manual and interpretation guide. Health Institute, New England Medical Center: Boston; 1993.Google Scholar
  19. 19.
    McKenzie TL, Cohen DA, Sehgal A, Williamson S, Golinelli D. System for observing play and recreation in communities (SOPARC): reliability and validity measures. J Phys Act Health. 2006;3(s1):S208–22. Scholar
  20. 20.
    Slater SJ, Ewing R, Powell LM, Chaloupka FJ, Johnston LD, O'Malley PM. The association between community physical activity settings and youth physical activity, obesity, and body mass index. J Adolesc Health. 2010;47(5):496–503. Scholar
  21. 21.
    Cohen J. A power primer. Psychol Bull. 1992;112(1):155–9.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  22. 22.
    Groff E, McCord ES. The role of neighborhood parks as crime generators. Secur J. 2012;25(1):1–24.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© The New York Academy of Medicine 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.RAND CorporationSan FranciscoUSA
  2. 2.School of KinesiologyUniversity of MichiganAnn ArborUSA
  3. 3.RAND CorporationPittsburghUSA
  4. 4.RAND CorporationSanta MonicaUSA

Personalised recommendations