Proximity To Parks: An Opportunity for Action

By Catherine Tepper | Posted on October 17, 2023

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Welcome back to the latest edition of our Park Engagement Blog Series! As a reminder, this series is based on the 2023 Engagement With Parks Report, an annual report (begun in 2016) of 1,000 U.S. adults surveyed on questions ranging from frequency of park usage to parks and recreation as a component of local government, and more. With this data, park and recreation professionals can gain insight on how to best provide the public with the facilities and programming that they most need and desire. I encourage you to read the earlier blog posts in this series at the bottom of this page, as well.

As we hinted at the end of the last blog post, today’s topic will cover what proportion of U.S. residents live within walking distance from a local park or recreation facility. As was covered in our previous blog post, walking is among the most popular modes of transportation to parks and recreation areas, with nearly half of all U.S. adults (49 percent) saying that they walk to their parks, playgrounds, open spaces or recreation centers. 

However, this form of transportation is quite obviously limited to those who have walkable access to these spaces. According to the data from our Engagement With Parks Survey, 71 percent of survey participants live within walking distance of at least one park, playground, open space or recreation center. At least four in five Gen Zers, millennials, those living in the western U.S., those identifying as Hispanic or non-white, those who are very active, and parents indicate they have access to at least one park, playground, open space or recreation center within a walkable distance from home.

Twenty-nine percent of U.S. residents do not have a park, playground, open space or recreation center within a walkable distance from home. Survey respondents most likely to not have walkable access to a park, playground, open space or recreation center include baby boomers (39 percent), respondents living in the southern U.S. (36 percent), republicans (38 percent), those identifying as somewhat or not active (41 percent), and those making less than $75,000 per year (35 percent). 

As the data from this survey shows, proximity to parks and recreation facilities is an important factor in choosing where to live. Between the years 2020 and 2023, the number of people who indicate proximity to a park, playground, open space or recreation center is extremely or very important has only increased. In 2020, one in five survey participants responded that living near a park, open space or recreation center was extremely important. In just the past three years, this number has increased to nearly 30 percent.  

While proximity to a quality park or recreation center is very or extremely important when choosing a place to live, everyone does not have the opportunity to make that a reality. The fact that in the past eight years, the number of people who lack walkable access to a local park or recreation facility has not changed indicates an opportunity for action. In order to provide people with better access to their local parks and recreation facilities, local government leaders need to prioritize building quality parks and recreation facilities in the areas that lack such spaces, which means that our park systems need more funding and resources. As you will see, the public supports these measures, but that is a topic for another time… 

More in this series:

Catherine Tepper (she/her) is a research assistant at NRPA.