Park Usage and Physical Activity: An Exploration of Park Features, Neighbourhoods, and Park Programs
Hamilton, Kerry Lynn
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Parks have a long-standing history of providing leisure and recreation environments to local neighbourhood residents. They are designed to enhance the livability of communities and to provide recreation opportunities for individual health benefits. Recent studies have found that parks are underutilized for physical activity. In order to address this concern, this thesis research included two studies addressing the association between five park characteristics (i.e., park feature and amenity type, condition, cleanliness, neighbourhood type, and a park program) and levels of park usage and physical activity behaviour. Manuscript 1 explores park feature and amenity type, condition, cleanliness, and neighbourhood type in association with park usage and physical activity using the System for Observing Play and Recreation in Communities (SOPARC) and the Environmental Assessment of Public Recreation Spaces (EARPS) observational measurements. Park usage differed between park feature types (p<.001) and neighbourhood types (p<.001), with higher rates of park use and physical activity noted in urban neighbourhoods, and on splash pad, pool, path, and play structure feature types. Physical activity levels were associated with park feature type (p<.001), condition (p<.001) and cleanliness (p<.001) as well as neighbourhood type (p< .05). Manuscript 2 reports on the effectiveness of a family park physical activity program using questionnaire feedback (n=28), and observational comparisons’ of park usage and physical activity when the program was and was not occurring. No significant difference was found for overall park usage and physical activity levels, however the program target area significantly reported more usage (p<.05) when the program was offered. A majority of program participants were currently moderately-vigorously active (79%), met Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines (57%), came to the park with family members (93.1%), walked to the park (85.7%), and visited the park regularly (62%). From these collective findings, this thesis makes an important contribution to furthering our understanding of associations between park characteristics and park usage and physical activity levels. Findings from this study will be useful in guiding park researchers, planners, and designers as well as, park program practitioners and community agencies in promoting and creating more user-friendly and active neighbourhood park environments, as a means to increase population health amongst Canadians.