Presentation at the 2005 Active Living Research Annual Conference
Neighborhood parks in urban areas offer great promise as venues for physical activity. This is especially relevant for minorities and the elderly, who tend to be concentrated in urban areas. However, patterns and determinants of physical activity in parks are poorly understood.
This research aims to a) characterize neighborhood parks and their use by measuring attributes of park users, physical activity of park users, physical features of the park and neighborhood setting of the park; b) test specific hypotheses regarding predictors of park use, and c) test specific hypotheses regarding
predictors of physical activity in parks.
Phase I was a descriptive study of patterns of park use. Twelve parks were selected for study in DeKalb County, Georgia, an urban-suburban county in the Atlanta metropolitan area. Parks were selected for variation across several key attributes including park features and programming (e.g. facilities, on-site staff), characteristics of neighborhoods surrounding parks (e.g. median household income, race), and connectivity e.g. sidewalks linking parks and neighborhoods).
At each study park, data collection staff conducted intercept surveys of park users, observed and recorded the physical activity of park users, and assessed park conditions. Street network distances (calculated from street network overlays), demographic characteristics of neighborhoods surrounding each park (based on
census tract data), and the residential locations of park users (based on intercept survey data) were mapped and analyzed using Geographic Information Systems (GIS). Data collection was completed during the summer of 2004.
Phase I Findings
Data collection efforts yielded 2,930 valid intercept surveys, 12,407 observations of physical activity and park conditions, and maps of each park depicting the residential location of park users, street network density, and census data. Survey and physical activity data revealed variation in characteristics of park users and
physical activity across study parks. In most parks, the race of park users matched that of the neighborhood. In one-third of the parks, over 60% of the users were male. Most park users arrived by car, but in two parks, the majority of users arrived on foot. Finally, physical activity among park users varied by park. Overall,
most park users engaged in light or inactive levels of physical activity, but at several parks, a plurality were engaged in vigorous or moderate levels of physical activity.
Analysis of Phase I data is nearing completion. These findings will inform Phase II of the study, during the summer of 2005. Phase II is a case control study with park users as cases and non-users as controls to test hypotheses regarding individual and environmental factors that predict park use and physical activity in