Understanding urban park uses and evaluating visitor perspectives can help create more accessible, welcoming spaces

Talal, M. L., & Santelmann, M. V. (2021). Visitor access, use, and desired improvements in urban parks. Urban Forestry & Urban Greening. https://doi.org/http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.ufug.2021.127216

The benefits of urban parks for city residents are well documented; so are concerns about equitable access to urban parks. This study examined the demographics and activities of park visitors in Portland, Oregon, and explored their motivations for park visitation, access concerns, and desired improvements.

Researchers used on-site observations and park visitor interviews in 15 urban parks to collect data for this study. Three general park types based on visitor use were included: recreational-active use (promoting active play), natural-passive use (promoting relaxation and observation of nature), and multi-use parks (promoting both active and passive use). The selected parks were located within each of the city's major geographical areas. On-site observations focused on visitor activities and demographics. Activities were coded according to eight categories: physical recreation, relaxation, interactions between adults, adult-child interactions, person-dog interactions, interactions between children, solitude, and working/park maintenance. Interviews involving three visitors in each of the 15 parks included open-ended questions regarding reasons for visiting, park accessibility, and desired changes.

Results showed that the most common activities were physical recreation, interactions between adults, and adult-child interactions. Over 90% of observed children were engaged in physical recreation, and 75% were interacting with other children. There were no significant differences in gender or race/ethnicity of visitors across park types. Primary reasons for visiting the parks related to physical recreation, accessibility, and children. Visitors generally cared about park proximity, trails and paths, and maintenance. They identified feelings of safety and community atmosphere as factors influencing park accessibility and their experience while in the park. Feelings of safety were especially important for female visitors, and a sense of community for visitors with underrepresented racial-ethnic backgrounds. Preferences for improvements focused on enhancing various park amenities and social atmosphere. Specific suggestions included adding and/or updating bathrooms, adding trash/recycling bins, addressing unfavorable visitor behaviors, and improving vegetation planning and maintenance.

This research highlights the need for urban park planners, governmental agencies, and community groups to identify and address the diverse range of visitor preferences across urban park types. Doing so will help create more accessible, welcoming spaces that support the physical and mental health of diverse groups of people in their communities.

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