Everyone loves to see a beautiful park, but it turns out that nothing increases park use and
physical activity as much as programming— providing supervised activities to help people
make use of the space. The RAND Corporation and City Parks Alliance, with help from The Trust for Public Land, led a National Study of Neighborhood Parks to identify to what degree neighborhood parks in America’s cities encourage people to be physically active.
According to the report, seniors age 60 and above comprise 18 percent of
the population but only 4 percent of neighborhood park users. Given that physical activity can have immediate benefits for older adults in preventing or mitigating the impact of chronic diseases, the report recommends that park systems should do everything possible to promote physical activity among older adults. That includes building better walking trails and adding enhanced programming to provide structure, encouragement, companionship and fun.
The study was supported by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute of the National Institutes of Health. Over a two-year period (2014–2016) data collectors observed park design and behaviors in 174 neighborhood parks in 25 cities across the country. For the purposes of this study, neighborhood parks are defined as being between 2 and 20 acres and intended to serve local residents living within a 1-mile radius of the parks. Researchers documented park use, including who was using the park, their age, gender, and level of physical activity (sedentary, moderate or vigorous), specific activities, as well as park characteristics, amenities, and current conditions.
The research team also collected information on how parks were perceived by those who used them. The research team has published multiple articles on the study findings in peer reviewed journals, which were the primary source for this report. The journal articles and related publications are listed in End notes, along with the Research Team and Cities Studied. Links to related publications and additional case studies can be found at cityparksalliance.org.