Park equity: Why subjective measures matter

Kelli L. Larson, Jeffrey A. Brown, Kang Jae Jerry Lee, Hamil Pearsall

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Due to the various social and environmental benefits provided by urban parks and open spaces, ensuring that residents have equitable access to high-quality parks is paramount for planners and allied professionals. While research has identified inequities in park access based on race, ethnicity, and income, previous studies primarily focus on objective measures of access such as proximity to parks. Additionally, previous research typically includes single study regions that do not capture differences in distinct places. Relying on survey data from six metropolitan areas of the U.S., we address these gaps by investigating how subjective perceptions of parks vary by race/ethnicity and income (while controlling for other factors). Specifically, we employ linear mixed models to test for interaction effects between race/ethnicity and the six metro regions. We also compare subjective views of parks to ParkScore® rankings and metrics that represent park access. Overall, we found that perceived problems with park availability and quality were highest in the Baltimore area, as well as Los Angeles, Miami, and Boston; they were lowest is Phoenix and Minneapolis–St. Paul. Meanwhile, residents perceived significantly more improvements in park availability and quality in Miami and Minneapolis–St. Paul, followed by the other regions. Compared to objective ParkScore® measures, subjective perceptions of parks do not always follow the relative rankings of metrics for park access and quality. Additionally, Black and Hispanic residents perceived greater park problems than White residents, and Hispanic residents perceived more improvements than White residents. However, distinctions in public perceptions of parks by racial/ethnic groups and regions did not hold up in our mixed, multivariate models. Instead, our results highlight regionally distinct perceptions by race/ethnicity, suggesting that subjective views of park quality are context-dependent. In contrast, income is a more dominant driver of perceived improvements in local parks and open spaces. As a whole, this research underscores the need to consider both objective and subjective measures in particular geographic contexts to fully understand and plan for the equitable distribution of high-quality parks across diverse people and places.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number127733
JournalUrban Forestry and Urban Greening
StatePublished - Oct 2022


  • Equity
  • Park access and quality
  • Parks and open spaces
  • Urban planning

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Forestry
  • Ecology
  • Soil Science


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