By: Jamie Rae Walker, Assistant Professor and Extension Specialist, The Texas A&M University System
By better understanding the concept of proximity and its effects on park use, city planners can enhance park services, increase park use, improve access to current parks, and locate new parks where they can benefit area residents the most.
Definitions of proximity have included both perceived and objective measures of convenience. Perceived measures include:
- “Near where I live”
- “Within my neighborhood”
- “Within walking distance of my home”
Objective measures include:
- Distances, such as 500 or 1,500 yards from houses
- Time, such as 20 minutes’ walking distance
Residents tend to describe communities with extensive, attractive, and convenient park space as restorative, active, and friendly.
Studies of neighborhood parks have indicated that a park’s convenience is a key to its benefits. Proximate parks can serve communities in many ways:
- Increase surrounding property values
- Increase park use
- Provide easier access for neighbors
- Provide opportunities for physical activity
- Create contact with nature and restorative environments
- Mitigate water, climate, and air pollution
- Create or maintain ecological habitats
- Encourage community interactions
- Support local economies
Author and urban planning activist Jane Jacobs observed that many people walk by but never use parks near dense neighborhoods. When measuring the effects of proximity on park usage rates, consider factors such as:
- Competing resources
- Type and size of park
- Neighborhood density
- Walkability, wayfinding, and gateways
- Multi-modal access
- Types of development nearby
- Park safety
- Infrastructure and amenities in the park (Fig. 1)
In a study of park use in Singapore, urban planning researcher Brenda Yuen concluded: “The value of neighborhood places in the urban fabric lies in their convenient location, that is, proximity to the home.”
What communities can do
Household proximity to parks affects their level of use. To help ensure that all residents have convenient access to area parks, communities could:
- Identify or develop meaningful measures for park proximity
- Systematically assess local proximate parks
- Update park and comprehensive plans and related policies to improve the locations of and access to proximate parks for all residents
Parks contribute significantly to making places where people want to live. By fully understanding proximity and convenience and their influences on valuable community places, parks leaders and city dwellers can help extend the benefits of parks to all residents.
For more information
An Analysis of Patterns of Visitation to Recreation Centers in the City of Dallas, TX. By L. Hodges. 1971. Ph.D. dissertation. College Station: Texas A&M University
The Death and Life of Great American Cities. By J. Jacobs. 1961. London: Random House
“Environmental Correlates of Physical Activity: A Review of Evidence about Parks and Recreation.” By A. T. Kaczynski and K. A. Henderson. 2007. Leisure Sciences
Environmental Planning for Children’s’ Play. By A. Bengtsson. 1970. London: Crosby Lockwood and Son Ltd.
“Evolution and Implications of a Paradigm Shift in the Marketing of Leisure Services in the U.S.” By J. L. Crompton. 2008. Leisure Studies
Healthy Communities by Design: Building Health in Every Sense of the Word. By M. Fenton. 2015. http://www.markfenton.com.
Healthy Parks, Schools and Communities: Mapping Green Access and Equity for Southern California. http://www.cityprojectca.org/map-justice.
“Nonuse of Neighborhood Parks.” By S. Gold. 1972. Journal of American Planning Association
Park Use and Physical Activity in a Sample of Public Parks in the City of Los Angeles. By D. Cohen, A. Sehgal, S. Williamson, R. Sturm, T. L. McKenzie, R. Lara, and N. Lurie. 2006. Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation.
Parkland Dedication Ordinances in Texas: A Missed Opportunity? By J. L. Crompton. Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service.
“A Statistical Study of Attendance of Urban Playgrounds.” By N. Dee and J. C. Liebman. 1970. Journal of Leisure Research
“Use and Experience of Neighborhood Parks in Singapore.” By B. Yuen. 1996. Journal of Leisure Research
“Users of Local Parks.” By H. P. Bangs and S. Maher. 1970. Journal of the American Institute of Planners
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