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People and their Playgrounds

By Matthew Shulman

How do urbanites use public playgrounds? Do they use them every day? Who uses them? How are they maintained? Is collecting this information even possible? These were some of the many questions posed when a team of public space researchers from New Yorkers for Parks and New York University collaborated on the daunting task of obtaining this elusive yet vital information.

The findings have been published in Understanding Playground Utilization, a new report that digs deeply into the users of 10 sample neighborhood playgrounds. The results as well as the methodology employed can be illuminating not only for the rest of city’s 1,900 parks but also to the parks of many other cities around the country.
Most important, playgrounds were proven to be vital neighborhood resources. Of the adults interviewed in the playgrounds, 79% use playgrounds every week, 75% live in the neighborhood in which the playground they choose to use resides, and 75% walk to the playground. Of the caretakers interviewed, two-thirds of the respondents reported that the playground is the primary place for their child to play outdoors.

Secondly, neighborhood playgrounds are of particular value to low-income to children. According to the study, “adults from households earning more than $80,000 per year have approximately half the odds of reporting frequent playground use compared to adults from households earning $20,000 a year or less.” Furthermore, “compared to lower income caretakers, those earning more than $60,000 per year have lower odds of stating that playgrounds is the main place their children play outdoors.”

The third finding relates to the methodology itself. While expensive, elaborate and highly accurate counting technologies do exist, the research team wanted to develop a cost-effective and easy-to-implement methodology to track patterns. After selecting 10 playgrounds—two in each borough—that would reflect the diversity of New York City playgrounds, trained undergraduate and graduate students from NYU counted use and conducted in-person interviews with playground users. The methodology proved successful and shed light on the fact that “such information could be used as part of performance benchmarks for the Parks Department and other agencies that manage open space.”

In a time of tight budgets, it is crucial for city officials to understand the importance of public playgrounds and the many services they provide for New Yorkers and city dwellers alike. Through the utilization of a cost-efficient tracking methodology, cities across the country have the ability to further equip their park systems with the care and attention they require.

To see the entire report, please visit: http://www.ny4p.org/research/playgroundutilization