Parks, Open Space, and Recreation

Parks, Open Space, and Recreation: Infrastructure for Healthy and Sustainable Cities

Jennifer Wolch, Professor of City and Regional Planning; William Wurster Dean, College of Environmental Design


Institute of Urban and Regional Development

Project Description

Park space is an environmental amenity or good, with implications for health, child development, social capital, and the quality and sustainability of the urban ambient environment. Likewise, public recreational programs are central to engaging diverse population groups in physical activity, with broad ranging and long-lasting public health implications. Jennifer Wolch is part of several multi-university teams investigating the relationships between the urban built environment, physical activity and public health. Findings demonstrate the role of park and recreational program access to physical activity and the obesity epidemic.

Using sophisticated metrics and tools for the analysis of park and recreation access, these studies also reveal profound inequities in park access across demographic groups and communities in metropolitan regions, highlighting the environmental justice issues associated with the distribution of urban park and public funding for parks and recreation. Another focus of study has been urban trails and alleys as infrastructure for health promotion and sustainability. Alleys in particular provide the potential for distributed open space for physical activity, active transportation, urban runoff remediation and infiltration, and wildlife habitat. Wolch also participates in a study comparing a smart growth and conventional suburban communities, generally finding high rates of physical activity among residents of communities planned along smart growth lines.

Wolch's research has received support from NIH, the John Randolph and Dora Haynes Foundation, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and state land conservancies including the Rivers and Mountains Conservancy.