Effects of Access to Parks
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The Greater Wilshire/Hancock Park/Koreatown area is densely populated, so there are few parks within proximity to children's homes- most of who live in apartment buildings. The largest green area in this neighborhood is for upper class adults only and photos of the nearest parks depict adults utilizing all the amenities. Accessibility to parks as well as the ramifications for the lack of availability has been researched in numerous scopes. How does a city go about allocating new parks and what is the process to place one in a particular location- especially in densely populated areas with little or no vacant lots? There are numerous studies that explain the correlation between well-being and green spaces. Inequality in the dispersal of funding for parks and recreation between lower and middle class neighborhoods can hinder this relationship and in turn contribute to discriminatory and undercurrents of superiority due to social status and wealth (Byrne, 2009). Consequently, children suffer as obesity rates and lack of exposure to nature are at an all-time high (Franzini et al., 2009, Rigolon et al., 2014).
Lorne Platt conducted a case study in 2012 that examined the way children use the space in their neighborhoods. Children aged 10-12 shared their experiences accessing parks and other public spaces within their community. Platt used this method to observe the insight of a certain group of people living in an urban area. His subjects did not care whether a park was too far, but rather focused on whether it felt safe to play in a park or if the existence of alternate play area was of greater significance. His study determined that a lot of these kids looked for vacant lots, sidewalks and alleys which were abundant as a substitute to the traditional park (Platt, 2012).
Wolch, Wilson, and Fehrenbach found that areas with predominantly Latino, Black and Asian-Pacific populations have less access to parks than areas with populations that have a white majority (2013). The areas dominated by people of color are areas that mostly have apartment buildings where children and adults alike do not have access to a space where people can play and/or relax outside. Moreover, they do not have the money to go to a gym, or have the luxury to go play golf at the Wilshire Country Club for example or utilize their other amenities such as the swimming pool or tennis courts. Their study indicates that Los Angeles must think of innovative methods of using spaces to address the unequal accessibility to parks. These spaces are not just limited to vacant lots and alleys, but also include spaces owned by utility companies, streets that take up more space than needed and even riverbeds that are no longer utilized.
Pascale Joassart-Marcelli states that physical activity is not just correlated to access to parks, but also the quality and the number of parks (2009). Funds from local, state, as well as non-profit entities unequally favor spending on middle-class neighborhoods over low-income areas that have predominantly minority populations. The disproportion in the distribution of resources for parks and recreation has been a consequence of transfer of federal funds, increased delivery of services on a local level with limited allocation of funds between local, state and federal programs. This ultimately affects the health of certain populations resulting in increased risk of weight gain, heart problems, and diabetes. Moreover, Jason Byrne found that the imbalance in the dispersal of funds for parks and recreation contributes to the conception of discriminatory and elitist undercurrents (2009). Minorities felt that if they went to a park frequented by white people, their presence might be frowned upon or they may experience some sort of racist encounter. They were afraid of being picked on for being lively, dissimilar, or simply for being themselves. Minorities also have preconceptions regarding other ethnic groups based on distrust and cynicism, deterring them from using certain parks. Byrne says that park managers need to attempt to make parks more culturally and ethnically diverse by including signage in different languages and adding people of different backgrounds on their websites.
Additionally, Alessandro Rigolon and Travis L. Flohr studied how exposure to nature promotes both not only physical, but mental well-being (2014). Unfortunately, children's contact with nature has been gradually declining over the past 20-30 years. They also determined that white, middle-class children have greater contact with nature than lower-income minorities. They suggested creating green spaces in areas that would not normally be taken into consideration in lower-income areas, and forming community gardens for example. The gardens would be maintained by the local residents, while non-profit organizations, universities and community members could help out with raising money to not only to build new spaces, but also build initiatives that would raise the children's sense of security and well-being.
Cortisol, also known as "the stress hormone", impacts, controls, and moderates many of the changes in the body in response to stress such as blood sugar levels, blood pressure, metabolic rate, and the immune system. Catharine Ward Thompson, Jenny Roe, Peter Aspinall, Richard Mitchell, Angela Clow, and David Miller studied whether cortisol found in saliva can specify levels of stress related with different levels of contact to green spaces (2011). They concluded that weighing cortisol levels in saliva suggests great potential for exploring links between welfare and green space and debate how this procedure can be established to confirm and encompass findings in underprivileged city areas to show why the establishment of green spaces within proximity to homes could improve health.
The rate of obesity has risen dramatically for adults as well as children (Franzini et al., 2009). 632 parents of 5th graders were surveyed and asked to observe the patterns of growth and change in their communities. Their study determined that minority neighborhoods had similar accessibility to parks/green spaces. Although poorer neighborhoods that were predominantly populated with minority groups reported that their communities were easily accessible, they also reported that their neighborhoods were not very safe, not as comfortable, and not very enjoyable to spend outdoors. Also, the patterns of growth and change favor physical activity less than white communities. Disproportions in health arise as a result of income inequality and is quickly becoming a worldwide health epidemic (Jennings et al., 2014). Green spaces provide environmental amenities that are important to public health. This research discussed the associations between green spaces and some of the nation's leading health issues. Heart disease, illnesses related to heat exposure, excessive weight gain and mental health are debated in terms of key demographic elements liable to change- ethnicity, origin, and salary.
As our cities are becoming more densely populated and contaminated, green spaces not only promote physical and psychological well-being, but also provide services to a community of living organisms and their environment (Wolch et al., 2014). Although there has been an increased effort to create more green spaces in urban areas, the approaches have been self-contradictory. Other studies have shown that increasing the number of green spaces causes neighborhoods to gentrify, causing dislocation of the very people these green spaces were meant to help (Wolch et al., 2014, Rigolon et al., 2014). Therefore, the focus needs to shift to the support of long-term ecological balance and creating areas that encourage well-being, while taking into consideration what people need at home and at work by creating an equal, diverse, and democratic community.
Feasable efforts of growth in urban areas often place an emphasis on consideration of factors that affect all features of well-being and welfare (Larson et al., 2015). As previously mentioned, research has indicated that public parks and green spaces offer a number of communal, bodily and mental benefits to urban populations. The effect of parks on an all-encompassing scope of welfare was studied based on personal feelings, tastes, and opinions. Well-being was calculated based on the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being 5 tool, which measures five interconnected foundations that studies have shown to have the greatest influence on a person's welfare: purpose, social, financial, community and physical.
Lo and Jim (2009) argue that people expect different things of parks and green spaces depending on the community. Older public housing residents go to parks to look for common areas where they can make social connections and did not care too much about how the park looked. Older homeowners visited the parks most often, but were susceptible to the undesirable features of green spaces related to urban decay. People living in suburbs perceived parks as a way to spend time with the family and appreciate the beauty of nature. The newer public housing residents visited parks the least as a result of having less sense of community, and partial assimilation of people coming from other countries.
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