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Improving Access to Parks

We’re following up on our earlier post on the street grid and parks. This time we’re taking a closer look at how physical and perceived barriers can prevent access to parks – using TPL’s GIS mapping of park service areas to illustrate.

There are two different approaches that TPL currently uses to determine how well residents are served (i.e. how close they are) by parks. In the first approach, we merely create standard buffers around parks and trails of either an 1/8 mile or 1/4 mile, or “as the crow flies” to determine the population and area of a city within walking distance of a park. But standard buffers do not account for barriers. So TPL has developed a second approach that defines how many people are within actual walking distance, considering barriers such as freeways, water bodies, lack of park access points, or contiguous residential development similar to that described in our earlier post. (To do this, some on the ground research is necessary to determine actual access points and possible barriers beyond water bodies, freeways and the like.)

In this “Network Analyst” approach (which uses software developed by GIS-company ESRI), TPL conducted an analysis of the Santa Fe, New Mexico park system. The picture to the right shows the resulting map – the orange-ish areas represent the “as the crow flies” buffer and the the red areas the “network” approach. The results show that 60 percent of the city’s population is within a quarter-mile of a park, but when you consider barriers, only 31 percent of the population is within an actual 1/4 mile walk.

There are two important ways to use this “real world” analysis: first, it provides a more detailed view of where new parks area needed; and second, it sheds light on where access to existing parks can be improved through removing barriers.

5 Responses

  1. When we think about playspaces at KaBOOM!, it’s in relation to quality, quantity and access, and this type of analysis would be extremely beneficial to our work and the communities we serve.

    I’d love to hear what others set as a definition for access (quarter mile, 4 blocks, brisk 10 min walk, etc.) and if the ‘Network Analyst’ approach is replicable (and at what cost)

    Great stuff.

  2. Cool blog! Way to go you all…nicely done….;)

    Most people will walk at least a mile to a nearby park – and the highest caloric expenditure across the board is most often in getting to the park. Once a majority of people get to a park – they most often park it! So I wonder if in hopes of getting people in better shape…parks should be located over a half a mile – but less than a mile away from a majority of residences. That way they are still close enough to walk – but far enough away to get exercise.

    One question I have is – do you all consider a park just a park? It seems like distant and access should be based on “specific types” of parks and the surrounding demographic spaces.

    In your map example above – a park is just a park…:)


  3. Thanks, Woody!

    That’s a great point on what should be considered a park. A natural area isn’t the same as a soccer field or a playground. And its not practical, for example, that every resident be within walking distance of a swimming pool. We’ll try to get into that issue with further posts.

    Ben – thanks for mentioning the varying forms of how one could describe access. From what we gather here on park agencies, most don’t have any type of standard. (see this article, http://www.tpl.org/tier3_cd.cfm?content_item_id=20545&folder_id=3208)

  4. We are developing urban park planning guidelines for Montgomery County, MD and one of the guidelines we considering recommending is for urban areas is to have a park or a park-like open space within walking distance of all residences and businesses. We want to use a “real world” analysis and wonder if you can direct us to the software.
    On the question of what is the right distance, (1/8 mile, 1/4 mile, etc), would it be productive to analyze some park systems in cities where we know people choose to live there because of good access to parks, and then extropolate that to see what we think is the right distance?

  5. […] to pay a premium on properties within short distance of parks, independent of other factors. We featured one tool cities can use to determine where to locate walkable […]

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