NDSC: Access to Parks and Greenspace

This data story is excerpted with permission from the Neighborhood Data for Social Change.

Parks are a tangible reflection of the quality of life in a community. According to the National Recreation and Parks Association, parks bring economic value to a community by raising local property values. 

The presence of parks also provides environment and health benefits, including improved water and air quality and an increased the likelihood that members of a community will exercise. Socially, parks serve as a gathering place for people and families of all ages and income brackets to enjoy.

The Los Angeles Park Shortage

Each year, the Trust for Public Land gives the 100 largest cities in the U.S. a “park score” based on park acres, facilities and investment, and resident access to local parks. (Learn more about the index here.) Cities like Minneapolis, MN; St. Paul, MN; and San Francisco, CA top the list with park scores of more than 80 out of a possible 100 points. Comparatively, Los Angeles has a park score of just 41, ranking 74th out of 100 cities. 

According to the County Department of Parks and Recreation, Los Angeles has a median of 3.3 acres of park space per 1,000 people, well below the median of 6.8 acres per 1,000 people in other high-density U.S. cities. Across the county, 41 of the 262 neighborhoods have less than 1 acre of park space per 1,000 people.

Park access varies across neighborhoods in Los Angeles County as well as within them. Long Beach, a city with a population of over 471,000 people, ranks considerably better than the City of Los Angeles in the Trust for Public Land's park scores at 24th out of 100 cities. Despite this high ranking, park access varies significantly within the City of Long Beach. The map below shows park access by census tract within Long Beach, providing a visual representation of the discrepancies within the city. Hover over a census tract to see its acres of parks per 1,000 people and median household income.

Parks Across the Income Distribution

Neighborhoods with less than 1 acre of parks per 1,000 people are spread relatively evenly across the county’s income distribution, with about half of such neighborhoods having a higher than average median household income and the other half having a lower than average median household income. However, in wealthier neighborhoods that lack parks, such as Beverlywood or Carthay, residential properties are often larger and have spacious yards, providing more opportunities for neighborhood recreation, exercise, and socializing. By contrast, a lack of parks in higher density, lower income areas like Koreatown and Harvard Park often translates to residents lacking any access to outdoor recreation opportunities.

In light of these differences, health differs largely across incomes in “park-deficient” neighborhoods. In neighborhoods with median incomes below the county average, asthma-related ER visits are 58% higher than in park-deficient neighborhoods with incomes above the county average. Furthermore, only 48% of 5th graders were considered in good health in the lower income group compared to 64% in the higher income group.

Learn more about parks and community health as well as the efforts to improve park access happening now on the NDSC website.