Providing Equity For Parks And Recreation Facilities

Access LOS is expressed as the distance–or amount of time–a community member must travel to a park or facility. There are no standard criteria for access LOS–each community must determine its own, based on development patterns: street, bicycle and pedestrian networks, transit access and demographics. Depending on the area’s values, a standard for a neighborhood park may be a five-minute or quarter-mile walk, while a standard for a community park may be one to five miles. For example, the city of Denver has a goal of a green space within six blocks of every resident, and the city of St. Petersburg, Fla., has a goal of a playground within a half-mile of every resident.

Once a community’s access values are established, a spatial analysis can identify deficiencies in the system. It can also identify gaps in transit, roadway, bicycle and pedestrian networks. Access to a landlocked park, for example, may be increased by creating new roadway, bicycle or pedestrian connections, thereby reducing or eliminating the need to purchase additional park land. At the same time, access improvements also can create new recreational amenities, such as sidewalks, bike lanes or trails.

Facilities

Facilities LOS express “equal opportunity” in terms of the number of facilities per population. For example, the Florida Statewide Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plan guideline calls for one baseball field per 10,000 people.

Developing facilities LOS standards is a difficult task, but one that addresses real differences in recreation priorities between neighborhoods. For example, a neighborhood comprised primarily of retirees has different needs than a neighborhood of families with young children.

Each community must determine its own standards based on local recreation needs and habits.

Representatives from public, private and non-profit sports leagues should be consulted to determine the current inventory of facilities, trends and needs. Agencies also can calculate supply, demand and minimum service requirements by using census data to determine the number of children in the community eligible to play ball, surveys to estimate how many would play if fields were available and an inventory of existing fields to document the hours of play available per year. The available supply (how many games can be played per year) divided by the demand for fields (the number of teams) calculates surplus or deficiency.

Quality

Quality LOS means that all residents should have access to recreational experiences of equal or similar quality as other residents.

The Project for Public Spaces (PPS), a non-profit advocacy group based in New York, has established the following criteria to evaluate the quality of parks and public spaces:

· Sociability. Does the park feel inviting, relaxing and safe, the type of place where you want to be with your friends and loved ones?

· Uses and activities. Are there plenty of things to see and do? PPS suggests at least ten.

· Access and linkages. Is it easy, safe and comfortable to get there on foot, by bike, car or the transit?

· Comfort and image. Is the park aesthetically pleasing and comfortable during the day?

Individual parks can be graded according to these criteria or other criteria established by a community, and the results can be mapped to illustrate differences or deficiencies.

It is important to note that a high quality LOS does not offset the need to also meet the other LOS measures; a new, state-of-the-art skate park does not meet the community’s needs if kids can’t walk, ride their bikes, or take the transit to it.

Programs

A community’s programs must meet its residents’ needs. If a resident can’t swim, a new, nearby swimming pool doesn’t provide “equal opportunity” if swimming lessons aren’t offered.

Programs LOS address the distribution of recreation programming throughout a community. Programs LOS go hand-in-hand with facilities LOS and access LOS; inequity in program opportunities may be a function of access or facilities, rather than programs or content.

As with the other measures, evaluating programs LOS begin with an inventory of existing programs offered by both public and private providers, and a needs assessment to determine residents’ top priorities. Interviews and surveys of program providers, people on waiting lists, and user focus groups help determine deficiencies in programs LOS.

Criteria also should be established to determine the roles of public and private agencies in providing recreation programs, and the appropriate or desired LOS. Programs can be mapped and analyzed to determine voids in service, and to compare program availability to community needs and demographics.

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