More vulnerable groups live near and have access to parks, but they are less attractive

Biernacka, M., Lasziewicz, E. \, & Kronenberg, J. (2022). Park availability, accessibility, and attractiveness in relation to the least and most vulnerable inhabitants. Urban Forestry & Urban Greening, 73.

This study is based on the understanding that comprehensive studies on urban green space (UGS) provision should address three distinct levels: availability, accessibility, and attractiveness. A park (one type of UGS) is considered “available” if it is within a “suitable distance” from where one lives. It is considered accessible if the person or population of interest feels welcome there and “can freely reach and safely use the park.” A park is considered “attractive” if the person or population willingly wants to “use it and spend time there.” This paper enriches the related environmental justice research by investigating differences in the provision of parks (one type of UGS) in Lodz, Poland, at all three levels. The study specifically investigated which groups of inhabitants – the most or the least vulnerable – live around parks whose provision is affected by the largest number of barriers at each of the three levels.

The most economically vulnerable groups in Lodz are represented by the unemployed and people receiving welfare benefits. In terms of different age groups, the most vulnerable are children and youth, seniors, and the elderly. Information about the size and location of all 107 public parks and green squares in Lodz was obtained from the Municipal Planning Office. Twenty different indicators were used to rate each of the parks as being good, medium, or insufficient in terms of their availability, accessibility, and attractiveness. In addition to analyzing the data covering all the parks in Lodz, the researchers also conducted three case studies of individual parks.

In analyzing the data, the researchers focused explicitly on barriers that prevent park provision at the three different levels: availability, accessibility, and attractiveness. They checked who lives near the parks affected by the different barriers and found that most of the city residents – even the most vulnerable groups, with the exception of seniors and the elderly – generally enjoy good park availability. The parks available to the most vulnerable groups, however, generally lack attractiveness. Additionally, children and youth enjoy less accessibility than other age groups. Findings from the three case studies were not consistent with the overall data, in that they “showed no strong dividing line between the most and the least vulnerable groups.”

Findings from this study do not indicate large inequalities between the least and most vulnerable groups of inhabitants in Lodz. These results – which differ from many studies of other cities – may reflect the unique post socialist and postindustrial legacy of the city. This legacy includes “chaotic spatial planning, unequal distribution of parks, and no clear socioeconomic segregation.” A concern expressed by the authors relates to how “the ongoing revitalization of the city center and the increased activity of developers may exclude the most vulnerable inhabitants.” Specific recommendations are offered on how to ensure equal provision of UGS at the levels of availability, accessibility, and attractiveness.

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