Atlantic Cities

The Inequality of Playgrounds

The Inequality of Playgrounds
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Low-income, minority neighborhoods in cities are often heavily disinvested places, with less money spent there on road repair, civic infrastructure or cultural projects than in other parts of town. This pattern, it appears, may even extend to public parks, with the result that the children who need exercise the most may be less enticed to get it.

A recent study, published in the journal Annals of Behavioral Medicine, looked at the amenities in 165 parks in the four-county Kansas City metro region. Low-income neighborhoods actually had more parks per capita (perhaps a result, the authors suggest, of the fact that minority communities in the area are largely located in the older urban core where more parks were once planned into the city's layout). Parks in predominantly minority communities were also more likely to have basketball courts.

But the researchers also found that these same parks were less likely to have aesthetic features like decorative landscaping, trails and playgrounds. As the authors explain:

These findings are problematic because playgrounds have been shown to promote increased [physical activity] intensity and healthier weight status among children. Areas of low [socioeconomic status] are perhaps the neighborhoods that need playgrounds the most due to the increased likelihood of those areas having a higher prevalence of youth who are overweight or obese.

These findings also suggest one simple strategy (among many needed) to address health disparities in low-income communities in any city: Make sure public parks seem like places a 7-year-old would actually want to spend the day.

Top image: Aleph Studio/Shutterstock

Emily Badger is a former staff writer at The Atlantic Cities based in Washington, D.C. She now writes for The Washington Post. All posts »

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