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:
In order to fully address the root causes of the health inequities we see in our state, it is important to remember that what influences our health goes far beyond what happens in a doctor’s office. Many social and environmental factors contribute to our health and wellbeing. Among these, community planning and transportation design have some of the biggest impacts.
Today in Oakland, Prevention Institute hosted From Streetscapes to Thriving Communities, an event focused on how we can design our communities to better promote health. In particular, the event focused on creating safe streets:
Streets are in many ways at the heart of our communities, and street design can shape health out-comes in powerful ways – preventing traffic injuries and violence, promoting community cohesion and mental health, supporting physical activity, and more. But street design isn’t enough. Residents need safe places to play, great destinations, and a thriving local economy.
Two prominent experts, Dinesh Mohan and Dick Jackson, engaged in a terrific discussion on creating healthier streets. Here are some highlights from Twitter: