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Research Question

  1. How well do neighborhood parks in the city of Los Angeles support physical activity?

This report summarizes more than a decade of research on how well neighborhood parks in Los Angeles support physical activity. Between 2003 and 2015, researchers at the RAND Corporation studied 83 parks in the city of Los Angeles, conducting thousands of observations and fielding nearly 28,000 surveys of park users and local residents. About half of all residents said that they used their neighborhood parks, most of them routinely. Parks are also the top venue that people choose for engaging in routine exercise. The majority of residents, including residents of low-income, high-crime neighborhoods, consider their neighborhood parks safe or very safe. We also found that parks get more use when they are larger, when they have more facilities, when they offer more planned activities and events, and when their services and activities are marketed to the public. While there is frequent activity in city parks, there is room for improvement. Parks are underutilized by girls and teenage girls, and they are especially underutilized by seniors. Overall, nearly half of all Los Angeles city residents living within 1 mile of a park did not use that park. Most did not know about the activities that were offered, and the majority of residents and more than a third of park users did not know the park's staff. Recommendations include devoting more resources to outreach and marketing. Los Angeles should also devote a larger proportion of its budget to city parks: Park spending per capita in Los Angeles is currently less than half of the per capita amounts that are spent by New York, Seattle, and San Francisco.

Key Findings

There Is Frequent Activity in Los Angeles City Parks

  • Compared with many cities across the country, Los Angeles city parks are used more frequently, and they have more facilities, amenities, and organized activities.
  • About half of all residents said that they used their neighborhood parks, most of them routinely. When they visited a park, they reported staying for one or two hours.
  • Parks are also the top venue that people choose for engaging in routine exercise.
  • The majority of residents, including residents of low-income, high-crime neighborhoods, consider their neighborhood parks safe or very safe.
  • We also found that parks get more use when they are larger, when they have more facilities, when they offer more planned activities and events, and when their services and activities are marketed to the public.

But There Is Also Room for Improvement

  • Parks are underutilized by girls and teenage girls, and they are especially underutilized by seniors.
  • Overall, nearly half of all Los Angeles city residents living within 1 mile of a park did not use that park.
  • Most did not know about the activities that were offered, and the majority of residents and more than a third of park users did not know the park's staff.

Recommendations

  • The city of Los Angeles should devote a larger proportion of its budget to city parks. Park spending per capita in Los Angeles is currently less than half of the per capita amounts that are spent by New York, Seattle, and San Francisco.
  • More resources should be devoted to outreach and marketing. Many residents and park users do not know park staff and do not find out about park programs and events, so parks are often underutilized, and many programs are undersubscribed.
  • A tracking system should be instituted so that park administrators can assess the impact of their efforts to improve programming outreach and facilities.

Table of Contents

  • Chapter One

    Introduction

  • Chapter Two

    Comparison of Los Angeles Parks to Parks Across the United States

  • Chapter Three

    Recommendations for the Future

  • Appendix A

    Lessons and Insights from Specific Studies

  • Appendix B

    Parks Included in RAND Studies

  • Appendix C

    The National Study of Neighborhood Parks: Preliminary 2014 National-Level Estimates

Research conducted by

This research was conducted in RAND Health, a division of the RAND Corporation.

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