Study raises questions about access to urban parks during pandemic
A new to study found that use of parks and outdoor trails in urban North Carolina areas declined over the two summer months of 2020 – unlike anecdotal reports of a spike in new users during the COVID pandemic -19. The study also found that declining access to city parks was more likely to impact minorities and people from low-income backgrounds.
“Attendance has declined in city and county parks fairly steadily across the state, and has fallen even more sharply among people who rarely used parks before COVID-19 and those with low incomes or owned by racial and ethnic minorities, ”said the study’s lead author. Lincoln larson, associate professor of parks, recreation, and tourism management at North Carolina State University.
For the study, researchers combined survey responses and cell phone tracking data to understand the use of outdoor city parks across the state during last summer’s pandemic. They surveyed 611 residents of metro North Carolina areas in August 2020 and asked them to compare their use of outdoor park spaces during the pandemic to the same month in 2019. They also analyzed anonymous cell phone location data, collected by the SafeGraph company, for people who used their phones at points of interest with the name “park” in 66 urban areas in July 2020 and 2019.
When the researchers analyzed the survey data, they found that, statewide, nearly 56% of people said they stopped or decreased their use of open spaces and trails in August 2020. About 27% said their use of the park had not changed, and 16% reported increased use.
“Our data flies in the face of the narrative that people are flocking to parks like never before,” Larson said. “When we dug into the data, we also discovered issues of equity and access.”
People who were already likely to visit the parks before the pandemic, a group that was more likely to be white, Hispanic, or higher income, were the most likely to use the parks during the pandemic. Frequent park users before the pandemic were 23 times more likely to increase their use of the park during the pandemic compared to people who had not visited the parks before COVID-19. Sporadic park users were nine times more likely to increase their park use. People with higher incomes were the least likely to stop using the parks.
“We know that historically park use has been the highest among high-income white populations,” Larson said. “During the pandemic, when some people visited parks more, these were usually people who were already using them. There is a social justice problem here.
Analysis of cellphone data also revealed a drop in overall park attendance in urban areas, with visits down 15% from 2019 to 2020. While cellphone data could have detected people located anywhere within the boundaries of a park, the researchers speculated that many visitors were likely outdoors in 2020 due to the closure of indoor facilities.
Using census data, researchers found links between measures of social vulnerability and park attendance. Specifically, they saw a trend of census tracts with lower socioeconomic status linked to low park attendance. Areas with more people identifying themselves as Black, Indigenous, Hispanic or Latin, Middle Eastern or North African or “other” were also more likely to experience a decline in the number of visits to the parks.
“We know that parks are really important in terms of mental health, especially during the pandemic, when being outdoors was considered a safer space, but this suggests that not all segments of the population realized these. benefits, ”Larson said. “Like many things during COVID-19, the disparities are getting worse. We need to think longer and more seriously about equity and access to the park across racial, ethnic and income lines. “
The researchers cautioned that the study focused on urban and suburban areas and did not examine national or state parks in more rural areas. income levels, have access to parks in urban areas. They also said it was essential to find ways to keep parks open and used in low-income areas.
“These findings should inspire parks and recreation professionals to examine their planning and outreach processes to determine whether they engage socially vulnerable populations,” said study co-author Matt Carusona, director of programs and marketing for North Carolina Parks and Recreation Association, an organization that helped fund the study.
“Not only do parks and recreation professionals need to ensure that socially vulnerable people have access to parks, but they also need to see if they create a welcoming atmosphere for their entire community.. It is important to ensure that marketing and outreach efforts are inclusive and appropriate for all, just as it is important to have a community planning process for parks and recreation that is accessible to diverse communities, especially during a pandemic. “
The study “Use of urban parks during the COVID-19 pandemic: Are socially vulnerable communities disproportionately affected? »Was published online in Borders in sustainable cities on September 29, 2021. It was written by Larson, Carusona, with Zhenzhen Zhang, Jae I. Oh, Will Beam, S. Ogletree Jason R. Bocarro, KangJae J. Lee, Jonathan M. Casper, Kathryn T. Stevenson, James A. Hipp and Michelle Wells.
Note to editors: The summary follows.
“Use of urban parks during the COVID-19 pandemic: Are socially vulnerable communities disproportionately affected? “
Authors: Lincoln R. Larson, Zhenzhen Zhang, Jae I. Oh, Will Beam, S. Ogletree Jason R. Bocarro, KangJae J. Lee, Jonathan M. Casper, Kathryn T. Stevenson, James A. Hipp, Matt Carusona and Michelle Wells .
Posted published September 29, 2021 in Borders in sustainable cities
Abstract: The COVID-19 pandemic has changed human behavior around the world. To maintain mental and physical health during times of lockdown and quarantine, people often engage in outdoor activities at a physical distance, such as visiting parks and green spaces. However, research on outdoor recreation patterns during the pandemic has yielded inconsistent results, and few studies have explored the impacts of COVID-19 on park use in various neighborhoods. We used a mixed-methods approach to examine changes in park use patterns in cities in North Carolina, United States, during the COVID-19 pandemic, with a focus on impacts on socially vulnerable communities (based on racial / ethnic makeup and socioeconomic status). First, we interviewed a demographically representative sample of 611 urban residents in August 2020 to assess their use of park outdoor spaces before and during the pandemic. Second, we used cell phone location data (i.e. data from both methods revealed that urban park use declined during the pandemic; 56% of survey respondents said they stopped or reduced use. park, and geotagged park visits decreased by 15%. Park users have also become more homogeneous, with visits increasing the most for former park visitors and decreasing the most in socially vulnerable communities and among BIPOC people. or low-income. Our findings raise concerns about the use of urban parks during the COVID-19 pandemic and suggest that pre-existing health disparities in socially vulnerable communities could be exacerbated by inequitable access and use of parks and green spaces.