Parkland Atlas: Parks in Underprivileged Communities
Professor Scott Rogers
Parkland Atlas Essay
On any given day at PLU, you will see people from the Parkland community using the campus as a park: whether it is middle-schoolers playing football and hanging out, middle aged house-wives walking around the track, or elderly couples walking their dog through the campus. While the Parkland community is welcome on the PLU campus, and, in fact, PLU has made efforts in recent years to be more inclusive of its neighbors in Parkland, the sad truth is the Parkland community has very few options beside the PLU campus to use as a park or play area. Parkland, ironically only has one public park, and one recreation center. Gonyea Park, Parkland’s only park, is in decent condition. It has multiple baseball/softball fields, a play structure, basketball hoops, and restrooms. While Gonyea is in decent condition, it isn’t nice, and doesn’t get the same use as the PLU campus. In fact, in my limited experience at Gonyea, I never saw any members of the Parkland community using the park. . While I am sure members of the Parkland community use the park, whether or not it is used is only marginally relevant to this paper. The far more relevant information is that there is only one park in Parkland. Parkland is also the home of Sprinker Recreation Center. Sprinker is pretty fully equipped; it has everything from football to baseball fields, from skateboarding to ice skating, and even has rooms for meetings (Sprinker Recreation Center). The main problem with recreation centers is that not everyone can afford them and, in the Parkland community, this is especially prevalent. The median household income for Parkland in 2012 was $45,809, significantly below the Washington state median of $57,573 (Parkland, Washington). The purpose of this background information is to demonstrate why the following studies are relevant in the context of Parkland and how only having one park and one recreation center is a problem for the Parkland residents. In this paper, I will discuss why parks and recreation centers are important for underprivileged youth, what facilities and amenities promote park use, what discourages park use, and suggestions for what Parkland can do to improve the landscape of Parks and Recreation within the community.
With the growing obesity epidemic in the United States, physical activity is vitally important to our country today. The setting of a park or a recreation center is a good option as a place to participate in physical activity. . Parkland’s higher than (Washington state) average obesity rate in both adults and children (Parkland, Washington), creates a setting where physical activity is more important than ever. Additionally, with an elevated obesity rate in Parkland, barriers to park use should be a major concern. According to the president and CEO of a policy solutions company, Dr. Maya Rockeymoore, “(s)tudies have shown that kids who live close to public parks and recreational facilities are more likely to be active” (Mullins-Cohen, 60 ). For Parkland this statement is encouraging because it is something that Parkland as a city can remedy with the opening of more parks strategically placed so each member Parkland community can live in close proximity to a park. In a 2014 interview published in the National Recreation and Parks Association magazine, Dr. Rockeymoore cites physical activity as a “key component”(Mullins-Cohen, 60) in combating childhood obesity. Parkland, having a land area of 7.63 square miles (Parkland, Washington) and only one park and only one recreation center, cannot provide close park proximity to the youth of Parkland.
As a twenty year old, park proximity has never been a problem for me. I always loved going to the park. Parks gave me an opportunity to bond with my family, meet new friends, have adventures with old ones, and to get plenty of physical activity. Because park proximity was not an issue, park facilities and amenities also became a deciding factor for where i decided to go play. Unfortunately, the youth of Parkland do not have the same luxury. The point of my anecdote is that park facilities and amenities matter for park use. Maximizing park and recreation center use is important for Parkland to help with the above state average obesity rate that is a difficulty for the Parkland community. One way we can do this is to look at two studies, one that looks at 50 inner city and 50 suburban parks, and another that looks at the relationship between income and recreation centers (30 centers) in the San Diego area.
In the LA Parks study, the researchers were trying to determine levels of park use based on demographics. Previously, there had been plenty of research on various aspects of parks, however, this particular topic had never been studied. They examined data based on income, inner-city versus suburbs, ethnicity, and gender. The study found that boys went to parks more than girls (Loukaitou-Sideris, Sideris, 94). Boys liked playfields, while girls preferred playgrounds (Loukaitou-Sideris, Sideris, 94). And most importantly, “Park characteristics such as cleanliness, perceived safety, and superior facilities figured…in the reasons that children…gave for choosing one park over the other” (Loukaitou-Sideris, Sideris, 94). This study illustrates that it isn’t just about how close the park is to an individual’s house, but also what the park has to offer. And beyond that, that boys and girls enjoy different facilities within parks so it is important to have both as to draw both boys and girls to the park. One of the limitations of this study is it is not a representative sample. This means the demographics in the LA area do not represent the demographics of the US as a whole, and do not represent the demographics of Parkland or Washington, however, this does not discount the research. Just because the demographics don’t match the county’s average doesn’t mean that issues like park safety, how clean it is, or the quality of the facilities within the park are not important.
The second study looked at 30 recreation centers in the San Diego area. The purpose of this study was to test whether or not income determined the number of facilities and amenities that a recreation center had to offer(McKenzie, Moody, Carlson, Lopez, and Elder ) . The notable findings from this study were very interesting. The researchers found that there was not a statistically significant difference between the two income groups and the number of facilities and amenities each recreation center had to offer (McKenzie, Moody, Carlson, Lopez, and Elder 19). With that being said, there was a difference in quality based on income. This difference in quality is significant. They look at the quality based on $10,000 increases in neighborhood income. “For each $10,000 increase in neighborhood income, there were increases in both the number of facilities in good condition as well as the number of amenities in good condition in the community center, but there was a reduction in the number of cost-free physical activity programs offered” (McKenzie, Moody, Carlson, Lopez, and Elder , 17). The significance of this is especially illustrated by what park characteristic dictated what park they went to. With facilities in poor condition, that will bring fewer children than a cleaner, better kept facility.
Finally, with all of the information on how parks benefit youth, the ways in which parks and recreation centers are used, and with the help of a final article, I have put together a list of strategies Parkland can use to improve the situation of only having one park and one recreation center. Firstly, “Developing Allies” (Scott, 5): partnering with local businesses, and maybe even a farmers market, will promote park use by the whole family. The first logical ally to turn to is PLU. PLU has resources to help cultivate other allies and this could easily become a part of PLU’s outreach programs. Secondly, increase park safety (Scott, 7): this might mean adding more lights, or clearing some brush so that criminals have nowhere to hide. Thirdly and finally, improve access (Scott, 6). This is crucial, especially in Parkland. With only one park and one recreation center, it is time for Parkland to expand its parks and recreation centers.
In summation, while the PLU campus is a popular space for the community to participate in physical activity, it is vitally important that the partnership between the Parkland community and PLU creates additional parks for the health and happiness of the community. Adding parks could help with the obesity problem that affects Parkland, and could present areas for community to come together. This community project would likely be difficult and require significant political action to add parks to the Parkland community. In the mean time, there is a lot that can be done. Keeping Gonyae looking nice and the facilities updated and in good condition is one simple step to this project. Also, the PLU sports teams could put on a community events to educate about physical activity and would be a fun way for PLU to get involved with the community.
Loukaitou-Sideris, Anastasia, and Athanasios Sideris. “What Brings Children to the Park?” Journal of the American Planning Association Winter 76.1 (2010): 89-107. Web.
McKenzie, Thomas L., Jamie S. Moody, Jordan A. Carlson, Nanette V. Lopez, and John P. Elder. “Neighborhood Income Matters: Disparities in Community Recreation Facilities, Amenities and Programs.” Journal of Park and Recreation Administration Winter 31.4 (2013): 12-22. Web.
Mullins-Cohen, Gina. “The Park and Rec Impact: Addressing the Needs of Kids in Underserved Communities.” Parks & Recreation (2014): 60-61. Web.
“Parkland, Washington.” (WA 98447) Profile: Population, Maps, Real Estate, Averages, Homes, Statistics, Relocation, Travel, Jobs, Hospitals, Schools, Crime, Moving, Houses, News, Sex Offenders. N.p., n.d. Web.
Scott, David. “Economic Inequality, Poverty, and Park and Recreation Delivery.” Journal of Park and Recreation Administration Winter 31.4 (2013): 1-11. Web.
“Sprinker Recreation Center.” Pierce County, WA. N.p., n.d. Web.