Background Proximity to parks and physical activity sites has been linked to an increase in active behaviors, and positive impacts on health outcomes such as lower rates of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and obesity. Since populations with a low socio-economic status as well as racial and ethnic minorities tend to experience worse health outcomes in the USA, access to parks and physical activity sites may be an environmental justice issue. Geographic Information systems were used to conduct quantitative and qualitative analyses of park accessibility in New York City, which included kernel density estimation, ordinary least squares (global) regression, geographically weighted (local) regression, and longitudinal case studies, consisting of field work and archival research. Accessibility was measured by both density of park acreage and density of physical activity sites. Independent variables included percent non-Hispanic black, percent Hispanic, percent below poverty, percent of adults without high school diploma, percent with limited English-speaking ability, and population density. Results The ordinary least squares linear regression found weak relationships in both the park acreage density and the physical activity site density models (Ra2 = .11 and .23, respectively; AIC = 7162 and 3529, respectively). Geographically weighted regression, however, suggested spatial non-stationarity in both models, indicating disparities in accessibility that vary over space with respect to magnitude and directionality of the relationships (AIC = 2014 and -1241, respectively). The qualitative analysis supported the findings of the local regression, confirming that although there is a geographically inequitable distribution of park space and physical activity sites, it is not globally predicted by race, ethnicity, or socio-economic status. Conclusion The combination of quantitative and qualitative analyses demonstrated the complexity of the issues around racial and ethnic disparities in park access. They revealed trends that may not have been otherwise detectable, such as the spatially inconsistent relationship between physical activity site density and socio-demographics. In order to establish a more stable global model, a number of additional factors, variables, and methods might be used to quantify park accessibility, such as network analysis of proximity, perception of accessibility and usability, and additional park quality characteristics. Accurate measurement of park accessibility can therefore be important in showing the links between opportunities for active behavior and beneficial health outcomes.
Maroko, A. R., Maantay, J. A., Sohler, N. L., Grady, K. L. & Arno, P. S. (2009). The complexities of measuring access to parks and physical activity sites in New York City: a quantitative and qualitative approach. International Journal of Health Geographics, 8, 34-34. doi:10.1186/1476-072X-8-34.