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March 27, 2019

The 5 Data Points You Need to Ensure Equitable Distribution of Park Improvements

Park facilities have been associated with increasing property values, lowering crime rates and improving the health and well-being of residents. However, throughout history, some areas have had greater access to green space than others. In fact, many of the most populated areas have the smallest amount, impacting those who often have a greater risk of preventable diseases due to lower income. 

Local communities, like the City of Jefferson, Missouri, are trying to rebalance their green space, providing amenities to all. Last month at the Missouri Park & Recreation Association's Conference, Shannon Gordon and the City shared their journey, as well as how they’ve used master planning to improve equality. 

Before beginning the master planning process, it’s important to understand local demographics in relation to community green spaces. Below, we’ve outlined the five data points you should consider, while developing a plan. This information will help ensure park improvements are equitably distributed. 

  1. Distribution of Green Space: This can be tracked through GIS data, as well as aerial photos and land ownership. It is important to know where all community green spaces are positioned. Their locations in relationship to population is critical information for planning. In fact, walkable access to community green space is the best way to ensure park usage.
  2. Level of Service: In 1996, the National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA) published the Park, Open Space, and Greenway Guidelines. The book presented a model of typical park classifications, as well as recommended service levels based on population. With concrete numbers to support the demand for park services and facilities, park and rec departments can justify the need for staff, maintenance, and additional parks and facilities. If equity is a goal, as it was in this case, the numbers can also provide guidance on how to better develop and implement services. For example, parks that are not reaching women might need to add exercise classes, or those not visited by seniors may need to add benches or have their accessibility issues addressed. Park assessment provides important benchmarks to guide planning and management strategies.
  3. Population: Population is measured community-wide and overlaid on to the parks and greenspace data, as well as crime statistics. It helps us understand proximity to parks via pedestrian and vehicular traffic and also identify potential land that can help eliminate unmet need.
  4. Crime Rates: Most communities track and post crime statistics via GIS data. It is important to identify areas within a community that could benefit from parks improvements. Increased parks usage puts more activity in an area and therefore more eyes on it.
  5. Investment: Most communities track park improvements by year. Other ways to track them are by capital improvements programs, budgets and expenditures. Knowing past improvements and identifying them on the overlay with population, park location and crime data is a good way to affect change within a parks system.

Parks directors, city administrators and community leaders should all be involved in the process. Their insight can help guide a consultant’s understanding of the community and its needs. They can provide an invaluable understanding of the area and local residents.
 
In working with the City of Jefferson, Missouri, all of these items were analyzed. The result of those efforts is a 10 – 15-year plan for new development. The first project is Community Park, which is expected to open in the fall of 2019.