The following is a post from director Jennifer Jones.

Lynchburg Park Deserts and the 2017 National Citizen Survey:

A Voting Ward Comparison

What is a “park desert”?

The term park desert considers the type and quality of parks and recreation facilities available to the population, in addition to the distribution and proximity of parks and recreation facilities that are available.  Park deserts are characterized by a lack of parks and recreation facilities which decreases residents’ opportunities to reap the benefits of parks and recreation services such as limiting access to: infrastructure to perform physical activity, healing properties of green space and the natural environment, affordable recreation opportunities, and inclusive spaces and programs.

Park Deserts in Lynchburg

The Lynchburg Comprehensive Plan indicates that recreation facilities and park lands are not evenly distributed across the City, meaning that residents in three identified areas of the City live more than 1/2 mile from a park or recreation facility in urban or 1 mile in suburban areas and 10 miles in rural areas .  Park deserts lack adequate green space and recreation infrastructure to provide organized recreation activities, afterschool programs, open spaces and areas designed for physical activity including smaller walking loops for seniors.  Though 73% of adults believe parks, trails, and open space are an essential part of the healthcare system (1) and studies have shown that park proximity plays an important role in facilitating higher levels of park use and physical activity (3), over 1/3 or approximately 30,000 Lynchburgers do not have proximate access to Lynchburg parks and trails.  (Figure 1)

How do parks affect our health?

The American Journal of Preventative Medicine research revealed that people who use parks and open spaces are 3 times more likely to achieve the recommended levels of physical activity than nonusers(2). Given evidence from research, we continue to be informed that park distribution, park proximity, park facilities and park conditions do indeed have an impact on people’s desire to engage in physical activity. Considering the vast population living in Lynchburg park deserts, it becomes necessary to reevaluate current park distribution, lack of green spaces and organized recreation activities in these underserved areas, as well as park designs/layouts, national and state benchmarking, financing mechanisms and maintenance policies. Investing in improvements to counteract disparities in the various facets of Lynchburg’s park deserts has the potential to provide long term solutions in addressing the obesity epidemic, health equity, nature equity as well as other disparities identified in the National Citizen Survey.

Park-Desert-Map-1

Lynchburg 2017 Citizen Survey: Community Livability (4)

In 2004, 2006, 2008, and 2013, 2015 and 2017 the City conducted citizen surveys using the National Citizen Survey (NCS) instrument administered by the NRC. The purpose of conducting the surveys is to obtain statistically valid data concerning resident satisfaction with community amenities and the services provided by local government. The NCS captures residents’ opinions within the three pillars of a community (Community Characteristics, Governance and Participation) across eight central facets of community (Safety, Mobility, Natural Environment, Built Environment, Economy, Recreation and Wellness, Education and Enrichment and Community Engagement). http://www.lynchburgva.gov/citizensurveyresults

The 2017 National Citizen Survey tracked the four wards of Lynchburg for comparison; the table below shows the number of completed surveys.

Geographic Area

Number of Completed Surveys

Ward 1

102

Ward 2

59

Ward 3

79

Ward 4

105

 

 

Park Deserts in Lynchburg by Ward

Key observations: 

  • Ward II encompasses the most park acreage and includes Downtown and Riverfront Park, Percival Island, Riverside Park as well as the Blackwater Creek Natural Area and Bikeway. Thus Ward II has approximately 60% (over 500 acres of 900 acres total) of all park acreage.
  • Ward I holds both Peaks View Park and Ivy Creek Nature Park, which is about 30% or about 320 acres of the over 900 acres of park property.
  • Ward III hosts one park – Heritage Park – about 5% of all park acreage in Lynchburg. Ward III is the largest park desert and the most underserved with park and recreation assets.
  • Ward IV incorporates one park – Sandusky Park – about 5% of all park acreage in Lynchburg. However, Ward IV borders both Peaks View Park and Blackwater Creek Natural Area, meaning some residents of Ward IV are in proximity or within a ½ mile of two large parks depending on where exactly they live within the boundary.  Ward IV is the second largest park desert with respect to voting wards, meaning its population has the second most people living farther than 1 mile from a park or recreation facility.

The simplest hypothesis then is that people living in Ward 1 and 2 will have the highest positive ratings for areas related to parks and recreation and they will also be the healthier because of proximate access to park and recreation infrastructure and spaces.  While Wards 3 and 4 would be least healthy and have lower positive ratings regarding parks and recreation as they have fewer proximate parks and recreation assets.

 

Parks and Recreation Overall:  NCS Survey Results by Ward

Community Characteristic

Ward 1

Ward 2

Ward 3

Ward 4

Overall Quality of Life

88%

84%

59%

72%

Availability of Paths and Walking Trails

70%

77%

65%

73%

Quality of Overall Natural Environment

85%

86%

83%

84%

Public Places Where People want to spend time

69%

69%

55%

62%

Health and Wellness Opportunities in Lynchburg

77%

75%

65%

78%

Fitness Opportunities including paths and trails

77%

83%

72%

85%

Recreation Opportunities

71%

72%

64%

74%

         

Average Positive Rating

Related to parks and recreation

77%

78%

66%

75%

 

 

Participation –Recreation and Wellness

Ward 1

Ward 2

Ward 3

Ward 4

Used Lynchburg Recreation Services or Centers

51%

43%

46%

48%

Visited a Local Park

78%

87%

74%

74%

Eat a least 5 Portion of Fruits and Vegetable a day

87%

88%

77%

76%

Participate in moderate or vigorous physical activity

84%

83%

81%

84%

Reported being in “very good” or “excellent” health

66%

51%

35%

52%

Total Positive Rating for Participation in parks and recreation

73%

70%

63%

67%

 

Solution to park deserts?

The previous two tables bear out the aforementioned research as it relates to park deserts and substantiates the hypothesis.  The solution to the park desert / health disparity issue would be to (at the least) build a park in Ward III while the optimal solution would be to build a much needed multi-purpose recreation center (identified over 40 years ago as a need in the Comprehensive Plan)  in Ward III with adjoining park property. Other parks should be built in the remaining park deserts that align with new department goals.  All the parks should be connected in a loop by the trail system.  A loose plan is in place to bring this loop to fruition.

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Availability of Nutritious Food:  NCS Survey Results by Ward

Nutritious food consumption along with regular physical activity are key elements in achieving and maintaining optimal health.  

Issue:   Ward 2 has limited access to nutritious food which could be attributed to only 51% of respondents reporting being in “very good” or “excellent” health.

Community Characteristic

Ward 1

Ward 2

Ward 3

Ward 4

Availability of Affordable Food

74%

62%

74%

84%

 

Solution:  Invest in operations such that Lynchburg Community Market would remain open in the evening hours.  Extend the Hopper routes into the neighborhood community centers area in the evenings so parents and day workers can access fresh produce.

Satisfaction with Parks & Recreation:  NCS Survey Results by Ward

Governance Area

Ward 1

Ward 2

Ward 3

Ward 4

Preservation of natural area such as open space and farmland and greenbelts

52%

74%

54%

56%

Lynchburg Open Spaces

47%

68%

56%

43%

City parks

77%

86%

75%

81%

Recreation programs or classes

71%

74%

60%

72%

Recreation Centers or Facilities

72%

73%

69%

69%

City Sponsored Special Event

65%

67%

67%

65%

Average Positive rating for governance for parks and recreation

64%

74%

63%

64%

 

Summary:  Ward II remains the most pleased with parks and recreation governance which is attributable to the number of park acres and recreation assets in the proximate area of Ward II.

 

Other Observations: NCS Survey Results by Age and Race

The charts below show other issues to from the National Citizen Survey to consider as they relate to parks and recreation or correcting the park desert issue.

Issue:  Large disparity in ratings among various cohorts as it related to parks and recreation services.

Governance Facet

Percent Positive

Percent Positive

 

Health and Wellness Opportunities

18-54  Age Cohorts

68%

55+

77%

Fitness Opportunities

White Race Cohort

80%

Minority

69%

Recreation Opportunities

White

73%

Minority

63%

Availability of Affordable Quality Food

White

72%

Minority

64%

 

Solution: Offer minorities and younger cohorts more accessible recreation, fitness and wellness opportunities.

 

Issue: Preservation of natural areas and open space farmlands and greenbelts still has a low rating.

Governance Facet

Percent Positive Rating

Percent Positive Rating

Preservation of natural areas and open space, farmlands and greenbelts

White

64%

Minority

54%

 

Potential Solution: Utilize Greenprint Resource Hub, which defines a greenprint as a strategic conservation plan that reveals the economic and social benefits that parks, open spaces and working lands provide communities. “A greenprint is an effort to take a look at, map and understand where natural resources exist in a community,” says O’Donoghue. “It’s really to look at the values on the landscape and to see how those many values provide benefits — social, economic and environmental — to people and nature.”

(http://www.governing.com/topics/transportation-infrastructure/gov-tool-greenprints-green-planning-parks.html

 

Issue: Large disparity in ratings among various race cohorts as it relates to parks and recreation services.

Participation

Percent Positive Rating

Percent Positive Rating

Recreation Center of facility

White

73%

Minority

55%

City Sponsored Special Event

White

67%

Minority

61%

Used a Lynchburg Recreation Center or Service

White

54%

Minority

46%

Participate in moderate or vigorous physical activity

White

85%

Minority

74%

Reported being in very good or excellent health

White

63%

Minority

43%

Volunteered your time

White

62%

Minority

45%

Watched a local public meeting

White

31%

Minority

43%

 

Solution:  New or upgraded fitness facilities near the neighborhood centers.

Final Thought:

“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” – Ben Franklin.  In other words, if we could provide access to healthy food and the infrastructure for regular physical activity, much less health care would be necessary. 

Park and recreation agencies, as public resources, have a key role to play in addressing some of the nation’s public health concerns through modifying and altering variables that will ultimately influence healthy lifestyles for all Americans.

 

References:

(1) Preventative Medical Reports

(2) Kaczynski, A. T., & Henderson, K. A. 2007. Environmental correlates of physical activity: A review of evidence about Parks and Recreation. Leisure Sciences. 29(4):315-354.

 (3)  http://www.nrpa.org/uploadedFiles/nrpa.org/Publications_and_Research/Research/Papers/Parks-Rec-Underserved-Areas.pdf

(4) 2017 National Citizen Survey Results for City of Lynchburg http://www.lynchburgva.gov/citizensurveyresults