Active Spaces & Latino Kids Research: Park Maintenance and Safe Streets


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Achieving safer streets and routes

Improving elements of the built environment, such as neighborhood and park infrastructure, and facilitating safe routes for active travel may help address many of these barriers and promote physical activity among Latino children.

The National Complete Streets Coalition aims to improve the conditions of neighborhood streets for safer use by pedestrians and bicyclists, whereby “communities direct their transportation planners and engineers to routinely design and operate the entire right of way to enable safe access for all users, regardless of age, ability, or mode of transportation.”

Many states, cities and towns are adopting Complete Streets planning policies.68

Nationwide, more than 700 jurisdictions in 30 states, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, and the District of Columbia have enacted Complete Streets policies.69 Efforts also are underway in heavily Latino communities, such as Santa Ana and Los Angeles, Calif. and Houston, Texas.70–72

The Safe Routes to School (SRTS) National Partnership provides resources for increasing the safety of neighborhood streets to facilitate walking and biking in underserved communities.73

A case study describes the implementation of the SRTS program at Maybury Elementary School in southwest Detroit (approximately 600 students, nearly 90% Latino).16 During the program planning phase, feedback from parents was sought and “walking audits” were conducted to identify factors that may be inhibiting active transport to school. Improvements in infrastructure were made to address the identified physical barriers, such as decaying sidewalks and poor lighting. Geographic Information System (GIS) maps generated from several forms of computerized geographical data and crime data for the neighborhood were used to identify the safest routes to school, and a walking school bus program, led by parent volunteers, was implemented on those routes, which increased the number of students who walked to school.

A recent study of the national SRTS program and the funds distributed between 2005 and 2012 found that schools in urban areas with high Latino populations benefited most from the funds, demonstrating that progress is being made in these underserved communities.74

Park maintenance is essential for park usage

A program in the City of Chula Vista (50% Latino) in San Diego County, Calif., engaged community members in assessing the built environment and advocating for change to increase use of neighborhood parks.75

Promotoras (Spanish-speaking lay health advisors) collaborated with youth leaders and community members to identify specific environmental barriers to the use of an existing park. Dilapidated fences, overgrown plants, open sewage drains, and lack of bathrooms, drinking fountains, trash and recycle bins, and inadequate lighting were noted as the main barriers to park use.

The results of the study were presented at a city council meeting, which prompted several changes to address the barriers.

A community survey conducted after the changes were made and the park reopened found that more than 60% of respondents noticed several of the changes. The number of noticed changes was significantly associated with intentions to use the park and using the park for exercise.

Program results were credited to the collaboration among the promotoras, youth leaders, community partners, community organizations, and elected officials. Other studies have shown that making improvements to park infrastructure increases park use and physical activity among park users.76

Strategies for improving safety at parks and recreational facilities may also help to increase use of these sites.

Some parks and recreation departments have successfully improved safety by scheduling park programs later into the evening, keeping parks occupied with people engaging in positive activities to deter undesirable activities.

For example, the Summer Night Lights (SNL) program in Los Angeles, Calif. (where 48.1% of residents are Latino) is a violence reduction program aimed at reducing gang-related violence during the summer when gang activity is heightened. During SNL, parks and recreation facilities across Los Angeles remain open until 11 pm and offer increased programming.77

Resident teens and young adults at risk of gang involvement are hired and trained to work for the program. Program highlights in 2014 included a 15.4% reduction in the rate of gang-related violence compared with 2013 and participation in Zumba clinics by more than 11,000 participants and sports clinics by more than 10,000 youth participants.

Other communities have improved safety by installing high-pitched devices that only teens and young adults can hear to reduce loitering and vandalism at parks where younger children play.78,79

Funding for maintenance and security of parks and recreation facilities is imperative for sustaining or improving their use by the community, yet many states and localities face reduced federal and state funding that has resulted in poor maintenance, staffing cuts and reduced hours of operation and/or closure of existing facilities, with limited to no funding available for improvements to infrastructure or program offerings, despite growing populations.

The largest cities in the U.S. report nearly $6 billion in deferred maintenance costs for parks.80 Innovative funding strategies are needed to help communities keep parks open and well maintained and to improve infrastructure and programming. The community itself may be the source of this funding. If community members and organizations are engaged in the design and development of the park and realize the value of the park for the community, such as improvements in quality of life, economic development, and property values, they are more likely to contribute funds.81

Additionally, if parks are designed to meet the needs and reflect the culture of the specific community, residents of the community will be more determined to see the park succeed and be more willing to fund maintenance and improvement projects.

Alternative funding may also be obtained by charging residents for use and/or offering “workreation” opportunities for kids to work at the park in exchange for use of its facilities.81 Another creative strategy for fundraising is the National Recreation and Park Association’s Fund Your Park, a crowdfunding platform (similar to Kickstarter and indiegogo) that parks and recreation departments can use to attract funding from supporters.82

Tools needed to assess Latino community recreational facilities

Multi-dimensional tools can assess the needs of Latino communities regarding physical activity/recreation facilities and inform efforts to increase the use of facilities among Latino children in underserved communities.

Identifying characteristics that make existing recreation facilities successful can inform the planning of future facilities conducive to physical activity.

Tools are available for assessing the built environment, but research suggests that current measures need improvement to capture all important factors that influence the use of the built environment in underserved communities.49,83–86

The Physical Activity Resource Assessment (PARA) is a multi-dimensional instrument that rates recreation sites on their features, amenities, and incivilities (e.g., litter, unattended dogs, evidence of substance or alcohol use, vandalism).87

A study investigating the utility of the PARA for planning physical activity interventions in two economically disadvantaged urban neighborhoods (62.4% ethnic minorities) in Tampa, Fla., found that collecting qualitative data in addition to PARA data captured issues such as transportation barriers, interest, and convenience that were not captured by the instrument alone.83 To identify all important factors that may influence the use of a recreation facility, the investigators recommend adding qualitative assessments, such as interviews with parent-child pairs, to obtain feedback about other non-physical factors related to the use of the facility.

One research group reported on the utility of multi-dimensional neighborhood profiles as a tool to evaluate the built environment in 12 primarily low-income, urban Latino communities (26% to 79% Latino) in Pima County, Ariz.88

The tool incorporated secondary data, including census data and GIS maps; observational assessments with selected portions of existing tools, including the PARA, the Community Health Index and the Americans with Disabilities Act Bus Stop Accessibilities Study; interviews with neighborhood connectors (e.g., community representatives); and community surveys.

Although secondary data provided useful objective information on infrastructure and community resources, observational assessments, interviews and surveys were crucial for identifying the actual needs of the community.

For example, secondary data indicated the presence of a recreation site, but the observational assessment revealed the accessibility of the site to the public (e.g., opened vs. locked gates), and the community surveys indicated the residents’ awareness about the availability of the site.

Community feedback on physical activity options

When gathering community feedback, assessing cultural factors may help to identify characteristics of the built environment or recreation program that would be important to the Latino community and thus persuade them to engage in physical activity.

For example, a study surveyed 303 Latinos to assess cultural factors about their outdoor recreation compared with other populations.89

Survey results suggested that family, community and personalization were the most valued and influential cultural factors among Latinos. Therefore, to attract Latinos to outdoor recreation, investigators concluded that programs should include family- and community-based activities that leverage the strong personal relationships among Latinos. Community mentors and leaders could also help to engage residents in the activities.

In Bridgeport, Conn. (41.1% Latino), the Community Stakeholder Park Audit Tool (CPAT) was used by twenty-four adult residents to evaluate community parks. Several associations were found between park attributes and park use among residents that allowed study participants to suggest areas of intervention for improving physical activity areas within the parks, suggesting that the CPAT is a useful tool for evaluating community parks.90

Another method of evaluating the opportunities for improving physical activity sites in the community is “Photovoice,” a research method involving the use of cameras by teens and adults to document barriers to physical activity in the community and bring awareness of the issues to the local policymakers, including one application of this method by Latina teens in Connecticut.56,57,91

Projects such as these have led to several policy changes in the respective communities, including modifications to the school bus routes to add a stop at the local YMCA and reopening of two city pools.

These studies have important implications for planners of physical activity facilities.

Multiple appropriate measures, including feedback from community members, should be incorporated into the assessment of the built environment to better inform decisions about building new environments or improving existing environments in Latino communities.

If surveys are used, they should be developed in English and Spanish and pilot-tested to increase the response rate and optimize comprehension among respondents.

Marketing the research project to the Latino community may also increase participation. The Project for Public Spaces offers guidance for community planners on the important issues related to the development of parks and other community spaces.

More from our Active Spaces & Latino Kids: A Research Review »

References for this section »

(68) Smart Growth America. National Complete Streets Coalition. Available at: (accessed Feb 19, 2015).

(69) Smart Growth America. Announcing the best complete streets policies of 2014. Available at: (accessed Feb 19, 2015).

(70) Miller, L. “Complete Streets” conference wrap: Penalosa, Papandreou, look to L.A.’s future. Available at: (accessed Jan 11, 2013).

(71) Santa Ana in Motion. Complete Streets. Available at: (accessed Jan 11, 2013).

(72) Houston Coalition for Complete Streets. Houston Coalition for Complete Streets. Available at: (accessed Jan 1, 2015).

(73) Safe Routes to School National Partnership. Implementing safe routes to school in low-income schools and communities: A resource guide for volunteers and professionals. Available at: (accessed Nov 16, 2012).

(74) McDonald, N. C.; Barth, P. H.; Steiner, R. L. Assessing the Distribution of Safe Routes to School Program Funds, 2005-2012. Am. J. Prev. Med. 2013, 45 (4), 401–406.

(75) Arredondo, E.; Mueller, K.; Mejia, E.; Rovira-Oswalder, T.; Richardson, D.; Hoos, T. Advocating for Environmental Changes to Increase Access to Parks: Engaging Promotoras and Youth Leaders. Heal. Promot Pract. 2013, 14 (5), 759–766.

(76) Cohen, D. A.; Han, B.; Isacoff, J.; Shulaker, B.; Williamson, S.; Marsh, T.; McKenzie, T. L.; Weir, M.; Bhatia, R. Impact of Park Renovations on Park Use and Park-Based Physical Activity. J. Phys. Act. Health 2015, 12 (2), 289–295.

(77) Gang Reduction & Youth Development Foundation. Summer Night Lights. Available at: (accessed May 15, 2015).

(78) Minnesota CBS Local News. Screech Machine Could Drive Teens Away From Park. Available at: (accessed May 15, 2015).

(79) The Huffington Post. Kids Be Gone: High Pitch Only Teens Can Hear Used As Deterrent. Available at: (accessed Dec. 2, 2015).

(80) Keitt, S. K.; Resnick, E. M.; Simon, V. R.; Iskikian, S. O.; Marts, S. A. Behavior and Obesity in Women across the Life Span: A Report by the Society for Women’s Health Research. J. Investig. Med. 2008, 56 (6), 830–842.

(81) Project for Public Spaces Web site. Innovative Funding Strategies. Available at: (accessed May 15, 2015).

(82) National Recreation and Park Association. Fund Your Park (accessed May 15, 2015).

(83) DeBate, R. D.; Koby, E. J.; Looney, T. E.; Trainor, J. K.; Zwald, M. L.; Bryant, C. A.; McDermott, R. J. Utility of the Physical Activity Resource Assessment for Child-Centric Physical Activity Intervention Planning in Two Urban Neighborhoods. J. Community Health 2011, 36 (1), 132–140.

(84) Adlakha, D.; Budd, E. L.; Gernes, R.; Sequeira, S.; Hipp, J. a. Use of Emerging Technologies to Assess Differences in Outdoor Physical Activity in St. Louis, Missouri. Front. public Heal. 2014, 2 (May), 41.

(85) Evenson, K. R.; Wen, F. Using Geographic Information Systems to Compare Municipal, County, and Commercial Parks Data. Prev. Chronic Dis. 2013, 10 (6), E93.

(86) Ben-Joseph, E.; Lee, J. S.; Cromley, E. K.; Laden, F.; Troped, P. J. Virtual and Actual: Relative Accuracy of on-Site and Web-Based Instruments in Auditing the Environment for Physical Activity. Health Place 2013, 19, 138–150.

(87) Lee, R. E.; Booth, K. M.; Reese-Smith, J. Y.; Regan, G.; Howard, H. H. The Physical Activity Resource Assessment (PARA) Instrument: Evaluating Features, Amenities and Incivilities of Physical Activity Resources in Urban Neighborhoods. Int. J. Behav. Nutr. Phys. Act. 2005, 2, 13.

(88) Henderson, M. A.; Sanchez, Z. C.; Koegel, K. A.; Zawacki, L.; Martinez, G.; Ingram, M. Community Profiles: An Evaluation and Planning Tool for Neighborhood Systems and Environmental Change Efforts. Californian J. Health Promot. 2012, 10, 37–51.

(89) Adams, L.; Baskerville, K.; Lee, D.; Spruiell, M.; Wolf, R. The Hispanic community and outdoor recreation. Available at: (accessed Dec 30, 2012).

(90) Greer, A. E.; Marcello, R.; Graveline, R. Community Members’ Assessment of the Physical Activity Environments in Their Neighborhood Parks: Utility of the Community Stakeholder Park Audit Tool. Health Promot. Pract. 2015, 16 (2), 202–209.

(91) Dudley, R.; Hannay, J. A family-centered program to promote wellness for Latino Children. Available at: (accessed Dec 29, 2012).

By The Numbers By The Numbers



for every Latino neighborhood, compared to 3 for every non-Latino neighborhood

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