Community Engagement as Input to the Design of the Environmental Center at Frick Park and Beyond
Nov 8, 2011
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For more than 15 years, the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy and the City of Pittsburgh have been engaged in a public-private partnership aimed at restoring the city's four largest parks: Frick, Highland, Riverview, and Schenley. Together, these parks comprise approximately 1,800 acres of greenspace. As part of this partnership, the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy has been committed to conducting research to assess residents' satisfaction with, beliefs about, and use of the parks—all with the aim of better serving Pittsburgh's communities.
In 2011, the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy focused its research on the design and development of a new building for the Environmental Center at Frick Park, paying special attention to underserved communities and children within the vicinity of the park who have not historically participated in environmental education programming at the center (see Figure 1). The Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy asked the RAND Corporation to conduct focus groups and interviews with neighborhood community groups to obtain public input into the design of the new Environmental Center building. A total of 81 local residents provided input on park use and barriers to use.
Study participants living near Frick Park expressed a strong interest in environmental education, but they want to feel welcome to participate. Ninety-five percent of people interviewed at the Forbes and Braddock playground within Frick Park indicated that they and their children are interested in environmental education. Among interviewees at all locations, 59 percent said that environmental education was a top priority, 31 percent said it was somewhat important, and 10 percent said that it was not a priority.
The generally high level of interest in environmental education suggests that, if barriers can be addressed, participation in Environmental Center activities and involvement at Frick Park could increase. However, as suggested by some of the barriers listed in the table, many participants in the interviews and focus groups indicated that local residents do not feel entirely welcome in Frick Park or at the center. Further, some community members suggested that Frick Park and the center may not be appealing or interesting to youth or adults in underserved communities close to Frick Park, such as Homewood. This lack of appeal may occur because residents have not been exposed to environmental issues and education or because they have competing priorities or interests.
|Lack of awareness||• Residents lack awareness of the Environmental Center and its activities and events.|
|Lack of alignment with interests||• Park and Environmental Center activities do not match residents' interests.
• Park features do not appeal to high school students.
|Issues related to distance, transportation, and parking||• The park and the Environmental Center are not within walking distance.
• Which bus routes go to the park is unclear.
• Parking is difficult.
|Scheduling difficulties and lack of child care||• Work schedules affect residents' ability to attend Environmental Center events.
• Residents are unable to attend Environmental Center events due to lack of child care.
|Safety concerns||• Lighting is inadequate.
• There are trail safety issues.
• There are unleashed dogs.
|Feelings of discomfort||• There is a need for greater cultural sensitivity.
• Community members do not see others "like themselves" in the park.
The key barrier to use of the Environmental Center at Frick Park and to program and event participation was general lack of awareness of Environmental Center activities and programs. This is a chronic problem suffered by parks around the nation, whose budgets for outreach and marketing have historically been limited. Participants in the community focus groups indicated that they would be interested in a wide range of Environmental Center activities for youth and adults, including camps, nature walks, educational programs, arts and crafts, gardening, composting, and yoga.
The study found relatively low levels of park use and awareness of the Environmental Center among underserved populations living near Frick Park. Community focus group participants in Homewood and Wilkinsburg reported low use of Frick Park (a few times per year). A list of the barriers to use of Frick Park and the Environmental Center reported by focus group participants is provided in the table. Distance, transportation, and parking were the top barriers to using Frick Park in general.
Promotional efforts that are culturally mindful will be necessary to increase attendance at local parks. Advertising budgets for parks pale in comparison with mass media budgets, and, considering the inconvenience of distance and travel to parks for many, attracting new users is a significant challenge that any organization with limited resources will find difficult to overcome. Yet, as shown in Figure 2, interviewees reported learning about activities at Frick Park through a variety of means, and they also described what they considered to be the best means of hearing about and marketing park activities. Importantly, half of the participants interviewed reported that they do not hear about activities at all. The figure also suggests that some preferred communication means—many of which are low cost—may be underused. Participants in the interviews also suggested other means of reaching community residents, including use of community organizations and centers, local businesses, print media, and flyers/posters.
After analyzing responses from local Pittsburgh residents, researchers concluded that people preferred a "push" mechanism for learning about activities rather than a "pull" mechanism; that is, they want to hear about activities more directly and want to receive targeted information rather than having to seek out information on their own. This conclusion suggests that a variety of outreach strategies may be needed to reach local audiences.
Facilitating the use of and engagement in Pittsburgh parks (and specifically Frick Park and the Environmental Center there) requires addressing both the real and the perceived social and physical challenges that park supporters, current park users, and potential park users face. Researchers developed the following recommendations to address the key barriers reported by participants in the focus groups and interviews. When possible, these recommendations incorporate suggestions made by community members. The findings and recommendations from the study are based on a small sample size, and further research with a larger sample would help validate the findings and recommendations.
To address the lack of awareness about Environmental Center programs and activities, researchers recommend improving and increasing outreach to community members through a variety of means:
To ensure that the Environmental Center provides a range of activities that are aligned with the interests of local residents, researchers suggest that the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy
To increase participation and engagement among residents with limited access to Frick Park, researchers recommend the following approaches:
To address residents' variable work schedules and childcare needs, researchers recommend the following:
Addressing safety concerns and residents' feelings of discomfort could improve the reputation and appeal of the new Environmental Center building. Researchers recommend that the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy
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