reconsidering access: park facilities and neighborhood disamenities in new york city

With increasing concern about rising rates of obesity, public health researchers have begun to examine the availability of parks and other spaces for physical activity, particularly in cities, to assess whether access to parks reduces the risk of obesity. Much of the research in this field has shown that proximity to parks may support increased physical activity in urban environments; however, as yet, there has been limited consideration of environmental impediments or disamenities that might influence individuals’ perceptions or usage of public recreation opportunities. Prior research suggests that neighborhood disamenities, for instance crime, pedestrian safety, and noxious land uses, might dissuade people from using parks or recreational facilities and vary by neighborhood composition. Motivated by such research, this study estimates the relationship between neighborhood compositional characteristics and measures of park facilities, controlling for variation in neighborhood disamenities, using geographic information systems (GIS) data for New York City parks and employing both kernel density estimation and distance measures. The central finding is that attention to neighborhood disamenities can appreciably alter the relationship between neighborhood composition and spatial access to parks. Policy efforts to enhance the recreational opportunities in urban areas should expand beyond a focus on availability to consider also the hazards and disincentives that may influence park usage.

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