New study found that use of outdoor parks and trails in urban North Carolina areas declined for two summer months of 2020 – unlike anecdotal reports of a spike in new users during the COVID-19 pandemic . The study also found that declining access to city parks was more likely to impact minorities and people from low-income backgrounds.
Visits have declined fairly steadily in city and county parks across the state, and have fallen even more sharply among people who rarely used parks before COVID-19 and those with low incomes or racial minorities. and ethnic.“
Lincoln Larson, senior study author and associate professor of parks, recreation and tourism management, North Carolina State University
For the study, researchers combined survey responses and cell phone tracking data to understand the use of outdoor city parks across the state during last summer’s pandemic. They surveyed 611 residents of metropolitan North Carolina areas in August 2020 and asked them to compare their use of outdoor park spaces during the pandemic to the same month in 2019. They also analyzed anonymous cell phone location data, collected by the SafeGraph company, for people who used their phones at points of interest with the name “park” in 66 urban areas in July 2020 and 2019.
When the researchers analyzed the survey data, they found that, statewide, nearly 56% of people reported stopping or decreasing their use of open spaces and trails in August 2020. About 27% said their use of the park had not changed, and 16% reported increased use.
âOur data flies in the face of the narrative that people are flocking to parks like never before,â Larson said. “When we dug into the data, we also discovered issues of equity and access.”
People who were already likely to visit the parks before the pandemic, a group that was more likely to be white, Hispanic, or higher income, were the most likely to use the parks during the pandemic. Frequent park users before the pandemic were 23 times more likely to increase their use of the park during the pandemic compared to people who had not visited the parks before COVID-19. Sporadic park users were nine times more likely to increase their park use. People with higher incomes were the least likely to stop using the parks.
âWe know that historically park use has been the highest among high-income white populations,â Larson said. “During the pandemic, when some people visited parks more, these were usually people who were already using them. There is a social justice issue here.”
Analysis of cellphone data also revealed a drop in overall park attendance in urban areas, with visits down 15% from 2019 to 2020. While cellphone data could have detected people located anywhere within the boundaries of a park, the researchers speculated that many visitors were likely outdoors in 2020 due to the closure of indoor facilities.
Using census data, researchers found links between measures of social vulnerability and park attendance. Specifically, they saw a trend of census tracts with lower socioeconomic status linked to low park attendance. Regions with more people identifying themselves as Black, Indigenous, Hispanic or Latin, Middle Eastern or North African or âotherâ were also more likely to experience a decline in the number of visits to parks.
“We know that parks are really important in terms of mental health, especially during the pandemic, when being outdoors was considered a safer space, but this suggests that not all segments of the population realized these. benefits, âLarson said. “Like many things during COVID-19, the disparities are growing. We need to think longer and harder about the fairness of the park and access across racial, ethnic and income lines.”
The researchers cautioned that the study focused on urban and suburban areas and did not examine national or state parks in more rural areas. income levels, have access to parks in urban areas. They also said it was critical to find ways to keep parks open and used in low-income areas.
“These findings should inspire parks and recreation professionals to examine their planning and outreach processes to determine whether they engage socially vulnerable populations,” said study co-author Matt Carusona, director of programs and marketing for the NC Recreation and Park Association, an organization that helped fund the study.
âNot only do parks and recreation professionals need to ensure that socially vulnerable people have access to parks, but they also need to see if they create a welcoming atmosphere for their entire community.. It is important to ensure that marketing and outreach efforts are inclusive and appropriate for all, just as it is important to have a community planning process for parks and recreation that is accessible to diverse communities, especially during a pandemic. “
North Carolina State University
Larson, LR, et al. (2021) Use of urban parks during the COVID-19 pandemic: Are socially vulnerable communities disproportionately affected ?. Borders in sustainable cities. doi.org/10.3389/frsc.2021.710243.