Neighborhood walkability factors are linked to more frequent use of urban greenspace

Zuniga-Teran, A. A., Stoker, P., Gimblett, R. H., Orr, B. J., Marsh, S. E., Guertin, D. P., & Chalfoun, N. V. (2019). Exploring the influence of neighborhood walkability on the frequency of use of greenspace. Landscape And Urban Planning, 190. https://doi.org/http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.landurbplan.2019.103609

Greenspace is linked to multiple health and well-being benefits. The use of greenspace, however, isn't guaranteed by the presence or proximity of greenspace. This study explored neighborhood walkability factors influencing the frequency of greenspace visitation by people in Tucson, AZ.

Two groups of people completed questionnaires relating to their perceptions and use of greenspace in their community. One group of 309 people – referred to as “residents” – completed questionnaires in their homes. The other group of 103 people – referred to as “greenspace users” -- completed questionnaires in the Rillito River Park. The “residents” lived in a neighborhood on the south side of the park. The “greenspace users” were recruited from visitors using the north side of the park and were likely living in the neighborhood north of the park. The north and south sides of the park are separated by the Rillito River. This makes it difficult for park users to go from one side of the park to the other. The questionnaire consisted of two parts: a walkability section and a use of greenspace section. Questions in the “walkability” section addressed neighborhood design elements that would affect walkability, including connectivity, land-use, density, traffic-safety, surveillance, experience, and community. Questions in the “use of greenspace” section asked about frequency of greenspace use, mode of transportation used to reach greenspace, and proximity to greenspace.

Responses from “residents” showed that their frequency of greenspace visitation was significantly associated with their perceptions of several walkability factors, with the “community factor” being the most significant. The community factor relates to the availability of spaces that allow social interaction in a neighborhood, such as plazas and community centers. Other factors related to higher levels of greenspace visitation included (a) perceptions of traffic safety (i.e., design elements that provide pedestrians safety from traffic injury) and (b) surveillance (how well people inside the buildings can see pedestrians outside). People in the “residents” group did not indicate that their frequency of greenspace visitation was related to how close they lived to greenspace. Mode of transportation did, however, make a difference. Residents who reported walking as the primary mode were 3.556 times more likely to visit greenspace daily than residents who did not walk to greenspace.

Reponses from “greenspace users” showed that their frequency of greenspace visitation was significantly associated with only one perception of walkability -- traffic safety. For this group, proximity to greenspace was significantly associated with daily greenspace visitation. The primary modes of transportation for this group were biking and driving.

Overall results suggest that the walkability of a neighborhood can predict residents' frequency of greenspace visitation. The walkability factors influencing more frequent greenspace visitation include perceptions of traffic safety, surveillance, and community. Overall results also indicate that proximity to greenspace may not be a predicter of frequency of greenspace visitation for residents. These findings have important implications for how cities are designed. Efforts to promote health and well-being of urban residents need to consider not only the availability of greenspace but also the level of walkability in surrounding neighborhoods.

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