What Brings Children to the Park?

In the recent issue of the Journal of the American Planning Association (Winter 2010, Vol. 76, No. 1), an article, "What Brings Children to the Park?", describes the results of a study that examined the factors that bring children to parks and offers a variety of conclusions and suggestions that may be helpful for Parks and Recreation Commissioners, planners, and citizen advocates. 

Our study suggests that parks should have programs and facilities determined by the neighborhoods where they are located and their demographics.  Inner-city locations may need to adopt different park provision strategies than suburban locations . . .

. . . Design of playground equipment has been rather standardized and unimaginative and can hardly excite older children . . . We observed that parks with skateboard facilities were well attended by children (especially boys) in this age group [middle school].  Other programs such as films, crafts, water games, rock climbing, or electronic games could provide incentives for children to visit parks . .

 The authors also suggest that active recreation facilities with organized sport programs are key in addition to the "presence of natural features, and good maintenance and cleanliness."  They also discuss the underrepresentation of girls in parks partially due to the fact that girls can be more dependent on their parents for transportation. 

The article also includes specific advice for planners to create improved access to parks on foot and bike:

While parks are suppose to be neighborhood amenities easily accessed on foot, the great majority of children in our survey were driven to parks, even in cases when parks were within walking distance of their residences.  This increases children's dependency on parents.  Planners should make parks as accessible as possible to children by considering links to the surrounding neighborhoods, the safety of the routes, and the pedestrian and bicycling environment leading to the park. . .

The abstract can be viewed for free; the full article costs $30 for non-subscribers.