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HKHC Case Examples: Parks and Recreation

April, 2011

Communities: Benton-Corvallis, OR, Chicago, IL, Flint, MI, Rochester, NY, Somerville, MA

Research shows that Parks and Recreation departments have a positive impact on physical activity in children. In fact, a 1% increase in park and recreation areas is associated with a 1.2% to 1.4% increase in physical activity in young children (Roemmich, Epstein, Raja et al., 2006). In addition, the availability of park and playground equipment or organized physical activities has been found to reinforce young children to be physically active (Epstein and Roemmich, 2001). In low income and minority communities hit hardest by the childhood obesity epidemic, park and recreation services represent a crucial outlet for physical activity. Unfortunately, these communities face lack of park investment, poor park infrastructure, and crime and safety issues (Cohen et al., 2007, Wolch, Wilson, and Fehrenbach, 2005). Several HKHC grantees are seeking to improve the availability, quality, and access to Parks and Recreation in these underserved communities where children depend on them as places to play and be active. Over a third of HKHC grantees have parks as a central part of their initiative. Several grantees, including some highlighted here, have parks as their core initiative.

Case Examples

Benton-Corvallis, OR : Corvallis Parks and Recreation Becomes More Community Oriented with a Culturally Appropriate Clínica de Fútbol
Creciendo en Salud, the HKHC partnership in Corvallis/Benton County, OR has sparked a systems change in the Corvallis Parks and Recreation Department to better serve the community’s needs. In response to a community needs assessment in the primarily Latino population of South Corvallis, the Corvallis Parks and Recreation Department has adopted a culturally appropriate opportunity for children to be active and play. La “Escuelita de Fútbol,” a little soccer school program that originated to offer their Spanish speaking students a recreation program is the first monolingual Spanish-organized recreation program offered which will address a large gap in service to Latino families in the community. The adoption and expansion of la “Escuelita de Fútbol,” goes beyond programming. It represents a move towards a Parks and Recreation Department that is more responsive to community needs that the HKHC partnership hopes to benefit from in the years to come.

Chicago, IL: Safe Routes to Parks and Healthy Snacks
The Chicago HKHC partnership’s multi-pronged approach to parks as catalysts for community health begins with looking beyond parks to consider access to healthy park foods and the parks themselves. HKHC Chicago’s innovative strategy is to train neighborhood residents to advocate in partnership with professionals to local officials and the Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) for improved safety and access to neighborhood parks. Early successes include the dedication of ward funding and CDOT approval for a traffic calming treatment that includes a road diet on a busy street that runs through a large neighborhood park. A separate policy accomplishment has been the adoption of healthier guidelines for foods sold in park vending machines. This project includes nutrition education for Chicago Parks District staff and an impact evaluation conducted by the University of Illinois-Chicago’s Partnership for Health Promotion. HKHC Chicago continues involvement with community gardening in parks (see Community Gardens Case Example) as well as increasing healthy options with local food vendors in parks. Next on the HKHC Chicago agenda is setting healthier guidelines for beverages sold in park vending when the beverage contract ends in July 2012. As we can see in Chicago, expiring vending contracts represent a timely opportunity to make big changes by instituting healthier guidelines.

See videos about HKHC Chicago’s Work in Parks at:…

Flint, MI: Community Engagement for Park Improvement Flint-photo_0
HKHC Flint’s strategy to improve park space is to integrate their work with that of existing community organizations in order to deepen community engagement. Instead of spending energy and resources building new relationships, they expanded their network more quickly by partnering with key stakeholder organizations already grounded in the community. For example, they partnered with the local YMCA and Boys and Girls Club to receive youth input as part of their process to select three pilot parks. They also partnered with a long-standing non-profit organization focused on neighborhood revitalization near one of the pilot parks to help residents form a park “friends” group. They work on tangible benefits like hosting park clean ups and building park benches. These investments in building partnerships to support ongoing community engagement at the neighborhood level will help catalyze existing momentum around each pilot park, and build capacity for park improvements in the future.

Rochester, NY: Recreation on the Move – Bringing Field Day to Parks Rochester_2010 (17)
HKHC Rochester is partnering with the Rochester Department of Recreation and Youth Services to activate parks through access to play equipment. “Rec on the Move” is designed to increase city youth’s access to recreation activities, equipment and facilities by meeting youth where they are – in their neighborhood parks. The van full of play equipment tours the city, spending a couple days in various parks during the fall, spring, and summer. The youth themselves decided what went play equipment went into the vans. In addition, HKHC Rochester worked with residents and neighborhood associations to identify all current and potential play spaces. “Playability Teams” were formed to develop a prioritized plan for changes. To guide these efforts a Community Play Action Team comprised of key community stakeholders including the heads of City Planning and City Parks and Recreation departments and other key organizations was also formed.

Find out more about “Rec on the Move

Somerville, MA: Parks Designed by Youth for Youth
The City of Somerville has placed a high priority on ensuring that all new parks and park renovations incorporate designs and features that encourage healthy, active behavior in children, youth and adults. HKHC is Somerville is engaging existing community organizations to engage youth around park issues by partnering with the youth-led Groundwork Somerville Green Team to do an in-depth assessment of the parks, playgrounds and school yards in Somerville. Shape Up Somerville and Groundwork collaborated on the development of a parks and open space assessment tool. In spring 2010, the assessment of the City’s schoolyards and presentation of the Green Team’s recommendations to Shape Up Somerville, the City of Somerville Parks and Open Space Department and Somerville Public Schools took place. The Green Team is now in the process of developing recommendations on parks currently scheduled for reconstruction and will advocate for implementation of those recommendations during a series of community meetings on park design. The Green Team will also assist the Parks Department in facilitating and conducting outreach for community meetings on park design.

Find out more about Groundwork Somerville

A video of the Green Team’s presentation can be found here

Community Gardens in Parks
Many HKHC Partnerships are using Parks as places for Community Gardens. Please see the Community Garden Case Examples to learn more about this work in:
Corvallis-Benton, OR, Chicago, IL, Kingston, NY, Omaha, NE, Kane County, IL

HKHC Parks Work in Progress
Denver, CO – In partnership with the City of Denver, HKHC Denver is working towards implementing improvements in a local underutilized park to increase physical activity, safety, connectivity, and usable open space for recreation.

Washington, D.C. – HKHC D.C. is conducting a feasibility study of a Parks Ambassador program which would have the potential to provide needed jobs that would promote health and parks in underserved, low income communities.

Lessons Learned
Parks can represent a center of health in the community as they provide safe, low cost opportunities for regular physical activity, and possible options for healthy eating. However, barriers including access and safety have limited their use for this generation of children. Engaging untraditional partnerships, Chicago, IL is making parks more accessible with their Department of Transportation, while Flint, MI is partnering with affordable housing organizations to increase authentic community engagement. Benton-Corvallis, OR and Rochester, NY are responding to communities’ unique needs with appropriate programming. And Flint, MI and Somerville, MA are engaging youth in assessing current park conditions to help shape future improvements. Finally, healthy food in parks through community gardening in several HKHC partnerships and healthy vending in Chicago, IL has the potential to make an even larger impact on childhood obesity.

The Benefits of Physical Activity Provided by Parks and Recreation Services: The Scientific Evidence

Cohen, D., McKenzie, T., Sehgal, A., Williamson, S., Golinelli, D., and Lurie, N. (2007). Contribution of public parks to physical activity. American Journal of Public Health, 97(3), 514–23.

Epstein, L., and Roemmich, J. (2001). Reducing sedentary behavior: Role in modifying physical activity. Exercise & Sport Sciences Review, 29(3), 103–108.

Roemmich, J.N., Epstein, L.H., Raja S., et al. (2006). Association of access to parks and recreational facilities with the physical activity of young children. Preventive Medicine, 43, 437–41.

Wolch, J., Wilson, J., and Fehrenbach, J. (2005). Parks and park funding in Los Angeles: An equity-mapping analysis. Journal of Urban Geography, 26(1), 4–35.