Los Angeles Residents Like Their Parks, but Are Most Likely to Use Those Close to Home
February 1, 2006
People in Los Angeles like their neighborhood parks, and are most likely to use them if the parks are close to home and have supervised activities, according to a RAND Corporation study issued today.
Studying 12 neighborhood parks in mostly urban areas of Los Angeles, researchers found that most people who use parks live within one mile of a park. In addition, the study found that park users tend to be young and male, and most parks go unused for substantial portions of the week.
“People told us that the public parks play a significant role in their lives,” said Dr. Deborah Cohen, a RAND researcher and lead author of the study. “We were surprised at the large number of people who said they use parks.”
The RAND Health study is the first systematic evaluation ever done of public parks and was conducted as part of a larger project examining the impact that neighborhoods have on health. The work is supported by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.
Researchers measured what activities occurred in public parks, who used parks and the proportion of the local population using parks. The information came from surveys of park users, surveys of households within two miles of the parks, and observations of all park areas four times a day every day of the week.
The overwhelming majority of people surveyed were satisfied with park staff, with 80 to 97 percent of people giving the staff an “A” or a “B” grade. About three out of four people said their local park was safe, with a range of 51 to 99 percent of residents rating their local park as “safe” or “very safe.” In addition, 43 percent of adults reported their children participated in programs sponsored by the Department of Recreation and Parks.
Location was important to park users. Researchers found that 81 percent of park users lived within one mile and people were more likely to use their neighborhood park even if a large park was just a few miles away
Park areas that included supervised activities such as sporting events or senior citizen centers attracted significantly more users than other areas, according to researchers. The most common activity observed in parks was sitting, although most users reported that they walked to the park.
Researchers suggest that officials consider ways to add park space throughout the city, including looking for ways to use non-traditional spaces such as city streets, greenways and underutilized parking lots for recreation activities.
Parks also should have more facilities such as running tracks and trails, as well as organized activities such as walking clubs that would encourage moderate exercise. In parks with walking paths people were walking twice as much as in parks without them. Organized activities for older people and for women and girls also should be added to encourage them to use parks more, according to researchers.
“It should not just be kids and teens who use parks,” Cohen said. “People need to be active throughout their lives and adults need to be role models for youth.”
“Investing in parks is a good way to get everyone to be more physically active and to improve their health,” Cohen added. “The differences seen between parks serving similar neighborhoods suggest that both programming and facilities can encourage more exercise.”
The parks in the RAND study include six that are scheduled to receive major upgrades under Proposition K, a program that will invest $25 million annually in Los Angeles City parks over a 30-year period. Researchers plan to chart park use both before and after upgrades, comparing the results with parks that will not receive improvements.
The study also examined activities at two senior citizen centers located at regional parks and activities at two skate parks.
The study was developed in partnership with the Multicultural Area Health Education Center and the affiliated organization Promotoras. The Los Angeles Department of Recreation and Parks also cooperated with the study.
Other authors of the study are Amber Sehgal, Stephanie Williamson, Roland Sturm, Nicole Lurie and Rosa Lara, all of RAND, along with Thomas McKenzie of San Diego State University.
RAND Health is the nation's largest independent health policy research program, with a broad research portfolio that focuses on health care quality, costs and delivery, among other topics.
A full copy of the report “Park Use and Physical Activity in a Sample of Public Parks in the City of Los Angeles” is available on the RAND Web site at www.rand.org.