When it comes to recreational space, not all neighborhoods are created equal. Low-income communities and communities of color consistently have the fewest recreational facilities. Even where recreational facilities do exist, there are often other barriers to meaningful access, such as safety concerns, lack of transportation to the facilities, and poor maintenance due to inadequate funding. The result: Residents of these communities often have the fewest opportunities for physical activity.
In Los Angeles, for instance, access to recreational space is disturbingly inequitable. While standards vary, many experts recommend that a city have at least ten acres of park and recreation space per thousand residents. White L.A. neighborhoods more than meet that standard – with an average of 32 acres of park space per thousand residents – but Latino and African-American neighborhoods have only 0.6 and 1.7 park acres, respectively. Similarly, low-income neighborhoods have less than a half-acre of park space per thousand residents, while higher-income neighborhoods have 21 acres.
These patterns are pervasive. Throughout California and the country, low-income communities and communities of color are far less likely to have access to recreational spaces than their white, higher-income counterparts. Unfortunately, and perhaps not surprisingly, the places with the fewest opportunities for physical activity often have worse health outcomes.
Health Inequities in California
The lack of safe, affordable places to play and be active contributes to the health inequities facing low-income communities and communities of color across the state. Residents of “park poor” communities disproportionately bear the burdens of the obesity and diabetes crises:
Welcome to Friday Facts! Each week we'll be taking a look at a specific chart from the Data & Resources section of our website. This week we're focusing on access to parks in Fresno County.
One of the great things about California is that throughout the year, the weather is conducive to spending time outside. The abundance of parks, beaches, coastlines, and open spaces in the state allows many of its 37 million residents to be outside and be physically active. However, not everyone in the state has equal access to these open spaces for physical activity.
While often we look at disparities between race and ethnic groups, today’s Friday Facts looks more at disparities by region. In today’s table, you can see that just over half of the people in Fresno County live within walking distance (a half mile) of a park or other open space. For comparison, roughly 70% of Los Angeles County residents can easily walk to a park. In Alameda County, that number increases to over 90%.
Obviously population density in Los Angeles and the Bay Area has a lot to do with those higher rates, but the need for more accessible open spaces in the Central Valley is noteworthy. We discussed the importance of parks in our Landscape of Opportunity report: