Presentation at the 2008 Active Living Research Annual Conference
Leisure time physical activity (LTPA) can be constrained for some ethnic and racial minority individuals, resulting in negative health consequences. Promotion of LTPA is especially important for Latinos, who constitute the fastest growing and one of the least active groups in the U.S. Due to their low cost, urban parks have a high potential to provide significant LTPA opportunities in minority neighborhoods. Current use of parks for LTPA, however, is often constrained by a number of factors that need to be examined before policy recommendations aimed at reducing such constraints can be formulated.
The objective of this study was to provide an in-depth examination of factors that constrain Latinos’ use of urban parks for LTPA. These factors were related to the characteristics of the parks themselves and the characteristics of the communities in which they were located.
Focus groups were conducted with Latino residents of two Chicago communities with different access to natural environments. Little Village (pop. 91,071; 83% Latino) has access to only two parks (Piotrowski - 11 acres; Douglas - 174 acres), one of which (Douglas) is rarely utilized by Latinos. East Side (pop. 23,688; 68% Latino) has extensive access to outdoor environments (e.g., Wolf Lake Park - 976 acres, Forsythe Park - 65 acres), including two parks (Calumet Park - 198 acres and Whiting Park - 15 acres) located on the shores of Lake Michigan. Four focus groups with 26 participants were conducted between June and September 2007. Two focus groups were conducted in Spanish with Latinos born outside the U.S. and two in English with Latinos born in the U.S. Participants included 13 men and 13 women, with ages between early 20s and late 60s. Participants were employed in construction, hotels, factories, nursing homes, babysitting, and other occupations. Focus groups lasted between 1½ - 2½ hours and were audio- and video-recorded. Transcripts were analyzed using a constant comparative method that allowed for identification of two main themes and a number of sub-themes.
Constraints to the use of parks for LTPA by Latino residents were divided into two categories. The first group included the characteristics of the parks themselves. The most important constraint, identified in both communities, was safety. Parks were considered gang territory and were often subject of territorial fights among competing gangs. Gang members were involved in selling drugs and the mere presence of gangs deterred legitimate park use. Many incidents of drive-by shootings in the vicinity of the parks were recalled by the interviewees. Poor maintenance of parks was also reported. Jogging trails full of potholes, dilapidated playground equipment, trash, lack of water fountains, and unsanitary restrooms dissuaded people from using parks for LTPA. Little Village suffered from lack of access to nearby parks suitable for LTPA; the one park used by the participants (Piotrowski) was crowded and insufficient in size to meet use demands. Conditions in East Side were better, although safety issues and poor maintenance of facilities obstructed the use of parks by local residents. Insufficient staffing, lack of Spanish-language information about programs, and different racial background of other park users were also mentioned as constraints. Parks that were located in the vicinity of Latino neighborhoods, but that were perceived as “Black,” were visited infrequently, as interviewees were concerned about not being welcome in these locations. Interviewees also mentioned inability to rent recreation equipment and that certain facilities were absent, poorly maintained, or improperly utilized by other visitors as constraints to engaging in LTPA. The second group of constraints had to do with the characteristics of the neighborhoods in which the parks were located. A number of issues were raised, among which safety (problems with accessing parks if it meant crossing “gang territory”), lack of cross-walks, cars driving too fast in the vicinity of parks (lack of speed-bumps), and racial composition of the neighborhood (concern about visiting parks located in “Black neighborhoods”) were most important.
These findings support earlier quantitative research and provide an increased depth of understanding needed to propose policy and management recommendations for increasing the use of urban parks in minority neighborhoods for LTPA. The majority of the PA literature argues that inadequate provision of parks in minority communities is the main obstacle that needs to be addressed. The results of this study suggest that, although access is often an issue, various safety and maintenance issues also need to be overcome so urban parks can realize their full potential in providing LTPA opportunities to ethnic and racial minority members.
This study was conducted at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. It was supported by a grant from the USDA Forest Service Northern Research Station.