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Andrea Richardson, Bing Han, Stephanie Williamson, and Deborah Cohen

Background: Parks present opportunities for recreational physical activity and mental relaxation; however, they are underutilized. Methods: The authors examined how changes in management directly and indirectly impacted park use. Using a national sample of 169 parks sampled from 25 cities, the authors linked park management reported via surveys with systematic direct observation of park use, park-based physical activity, and park conditions observed during the spring/summers of 2014 and 2016. The authors used structural equation modeling to estimate longitudinal pathways from changes in park management and conditions to changes in park use. Results: Increases in subsidized meal offerings and greater use of marketing to promote park events predicted increased person-hours of total weekly park use. Pathways predicting park use varied across user and activity type. Conclusion: The authors’ findings suggest that changing park management practices combined with park conditions may promote park use.

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Deborah A. Cohen, Bing Han, Sujeong Park, Stephanie Williamson, and Kathryn P. Derose

Routine physical activity is important for everyone, and most urban areas have an infrastructure of neighborhood parks that are intended to serve as a setting for recreation and leisure. However, parks are not used proportionally by all age groups, genders, and socioeconomic groups. This paper explores factors associated with park use by different age and gender groups in low-income neighborhoods in Los Angeles, CA. We found that women’s visits to parks generally centered around children, whereas men’s visits were more likely to be associated with their own physical activity. Barriers for seniors are associated with limited facilities and programming that meet their needs. Park managers should consider park renovations that include social meeting places, comfortable sitting areas, and walking paths to better serve women and seniors.

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Bing Han, Deborah A. Cohen, Kathryn Pitkin Derose, Terence Marsh, Stephanie Williamson, and Laura Raaen


This study aims to examine the reliability of a 12-button counter to simultaneously assess physical activity (PA) by age and gender subgroups in park settings.


A total of 1,160 pairs of observations were conducted in 481 target areas of 19 neighborhood parks in the great Los Angeles, California, area between June 2013 and March 2014. Interrater reliability was assessed by Pearson’s correlation, intra-class correlation (ICC), and agreement probability in metabolic equivalents (METs). Cosine similarity was used to check the resemblance of distributions among age and gender categories. Pictures taken in a total of 112 target areas at the beginning of the observations were used as a second reliability check.


Interrater reliability was high for the total METs and METs in all age and gender categories (between 0.82 and 0.97), except for male seniors (correlations and ICC between 0.64 and 0.77, agreement probability 0.85 to 0.86). Reliability was higher for total METs than for METs spent in moderate-to-vigorous PA. Correlation and ICC between observers’ measurement and picture-based counts are also high (between 0.79 and 0.94).


Trained observers can reliably use the 12-button counter to accurately assess PA distribution and disparities by age and gender.

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Deborah A. Cohen, Bing Han, Jennifer Isacoff, Bianca Shulaker, Stephanie Williamson, Terry Marsh, Thomas L. McKenzie, Megan Weir, and Rajiv Bhatia


Given the concerns about low rates of physical activity among low-income minority youth, many communitybased organizations are investing in the creation or renovation of public parks to encourage youth to become more physically active. To what degree park renovations accomplish this goal is not known.


We used the System for Observing Play and Recreation in Communities (SOPARC) to measure park users and their physical activity levels before and after 2 parks were renovated. We compared findings with 4 parks: 2 that were unrenovated parks and 2 that were undergoing renovation. We also surveyed park users and local residents about their use of the parks.


Compared with parks that had not yet been renovated, the improved parks saw more than a doubling in the number of visitors and a substantial increase in energy expended in the parks. Increased park use was pronounced in adults and children, but was not seen in teens and seniors. Park renovations were associated with a significantly increased perception of park safety.


Park improvements can have a significant impact on increasing park use and local physical activity.