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Renovations of neighbourhood parks; Long-term outcomes on physical activity

Summary


Park renovation can substantially increase park use and levels of physical activity both in the short-term and over multiple years

Most studies on the impact of park renovation on physical activity have measured only short-term results. This study differs by considering whether desired short-term changes in both park use and physical activity levels are sustained over time.

This study assessed changes in the use of six San Francisco neighborhood parks and park-based activity levels over a six-year period. Five of the six parks were renovated during this time, with park users playing an active role in the design process. While the final renovations at each of the parks varied, new landscaping, new playground equipment, and additional seating were common features added to the renovated parks. Two of the renovated parks added community gardens. Other natural features added to one or more of the renovated parks included walking paths and a splash pad.

Researchers used the System for Observing Play and Recreation in Communities to collect information about park use and physical activity data at all six parks during three different years of the research project: in 2009 before any of the parks were renovated; in 2012 after two of the parks were renovated; and in 2015 after the other three parks were renovated. For each assessment year, observations were conducted three times each day (morning, mid-day and evening) for four days. The measurements were taken at the same time and day of the week (two weekdays, Saturday and Sunday) and in the same season. The data collected included the gender, age group and physical activity levels (sedentary, walking, vigorous) of the park users.

Over the six-year period of the study, all renovated parks showed an increase in the number of users (some dramatically so in the short term). The unrenovated park, on the other hand, showed a decline in the number of users. The largest increases were in the playground and seating areas of the parks and applied primarily to adults and children under 12 years of age. Park use and levels of activity did not change for teens and seniors. Although short-term increases in park use and physical activity were dramatic in the short-term, smaller, but still important, long-term effects were also seen suggesting that use and activity improvements can be sustained over time to some degree. The smaller parks in this study tended to have as many visitors as significantly larger parks, indicating that park size had a limited effect on park use. Instead, the authors suggest that quality of changes and the presence of good programming were likely the important factors.

This research suggests that park renovation can substantially increase park use and levels of physical activity both in the short-term and over multiple years. This research also suggests that quality factors play a role in physical activity levels. “Park renovations that consider and provide facilities that support varied levels of physical activity and cater to all age groups may foster increased park-based physical activity that can be sustained.”

Citation

Cohen, D.A., Han, B., Isacoff, J., Shulaker, B., Williamson, S., (2019). Renovations of neighbourhood parks; Long-term outcomes on physical activity. Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health, 73, 214-218.

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