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Parks and young people: An environmental justice study of park proximity, acreage, and quality in Denver, Colorado

Summary


High-income and white people have access to significantly more acres of parks per youth, to more parks with excellent levels of quality, and to safer parks than other groups

This study was motivated by the growing disconnection between young people and nature and by health disparities between affluent white youth and low-income ethnic minority youth. The study focused on proximity, acreage, and quality of parks in an urban environment, as children and teens living in cities generally depend on local parks to access nature. Additionally, parks close to home can contribute to higher levels of physical activity and healthier weight among children and youth. This study is situated in the environmental justice literature, as previous studies indicate that disparities in park provision are a part of broader discriminations against people of color.

The researcher collected information about 298 parks and the surrounding neighborhoods in Denver, Colorado. Census data from 2015 indicates that Denver is mostly composed of Non-Hispanic Whites (53.8%), Hispanics/Latinos (30.5%), and Non-Hispanic Blacks (10.1%). Geographic Information Systems (GIS) data collected and analyzed for this study included information about parks, park amenities, land parcels, Census Block Groups (CBGs), and streets of Denver, Colorado. Additional demographic data at the CBG level (which are relatively small areas compared to census tracts) was obtained from the United States Census Bureau (2015). This data allowed the researcher to investigate how access to parks varied by household income, ethnic composition, and percentage of people under 18 years of age for Denver’s CBGs. Proximity, acreage, and quality were the parameters used to investigate park access. A youth-centered index – addressing five quality-related categories of interest to children and youth — was used to measure park quality. These categories included structured play diversity, presence of nature, park size, park maintenance, and park safety.

Low-income and ethnic minority children and youth in Denver tend to live closer to parks than whiter and wealthier individuals. White and high-income children and youth, however, have access to substantially more acres of parks per person and have better access to safe parks and parks with excellent quality than other groups. Children and youth living in half of Denver’s low-income CBGs have to walk more than a mile to access a safe park. Thus, while park proximity offers slight advantage to low-income and ethnic minority groups, there are significant inequities favoring white and high-income groups in relation to larger parks, safe parks, and parks of excellent quality.

City planners and policy makers would do well to consider proximity, acreage, and quality in their decision making about parks and equitable park access. Such efforts can have significant implications for the physical health and well-being of low-income and ethnic minority children and teenagers living in urban environments.

Citation

Rigolon, A., (2017). Parks and young people: An environmental justice study of park proximity, acreage, and quality in Denver, Colorado. Landscape and Urban Planning, 165, 73-83.

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