But there remains a divide in perceptions of access among less-educated, lower-income residents.
The Atlantic Media/Siemens State of the City poll asked roughly 1,600 Americans to rate the availability of parks and recreation facilities near their households. And for all you suburban fathers: Think twice before boasting in the office about your neighborhood’s little league field. Urban residents, it appears, are just as happy with their parks and recreation spaces as those living outside the city.
Sixty-five percent of urban residents rated their park and recreation access as either "excellent" or "good"—exactly the same share of non-urban residents (those living in both rural and suburban areas) who felt the same way. Given the breadth of the term, grouping all non-urban residents undoubtedly creates statistical challenges. A wealthy Dallas suburb may be able to allocate more resources toward recreation than a West Texas farm town. Nevertheless, the evident satisfaction among urban poll responders highlights that cities have worked hard in recent years to ensure outdoor recreation access.
According to a 2012 Urban Institute report, larger U.S. cities in particular have prioritized green spaces, often reserving between 10 to 15 percent of land for parks. In San Francisco, for example, 98 percent of residents live within a ten minute walk of a public park. Similarly, a nearby park is available to over 90 percent of Chicago’s 2.7 million residents. In the case of Kansas, "the larger cities seem to spend a little more on the greener areas," according to Jim Bisbee, 71, of Wichita. Bisbee, a retired government auditor, lauds the diverse outdoor areas located throughout Kansas's largest city. "People have access to parks across the city, some have water features, others have hiking, and they all have picnic facilities," he says. In total, only 8 percent of urban poll responders labeled their park and recreation access as "poor." Yet satisfaction among urban residents is in no way uniform. A deeper dive into the poll results reveals recreation access may be tilted in favor of more affluent residents.
Wealthier, more educated urban poll respondents appear slightly more satisfied with their recreation spaces than those earning less than $50,000 a year. Diverging rates of satisfaction were even more distinct when comparing urban residents with college degrees and those without.
Clearly, a net majority of urban poll respondents without college degrees find their recreation access to be good or excellent. Yet a noticeable 40 percent appear dissatisfied. Only 28 percent of urban college graduates, on the other hand, defined their recreation access as fair or poor. Seven out of 10 urban college grads, meanwhile, believe their communities host top-notch parks and recreation facilities. These poll results support the notion that recreational resources—among other public health amenities—may be inequitably distributed within urban areas.
A 2012 study by the National Recreation and Park Association found significant disparities in outdoor facility and park access along socio-economic lines. Although NRPA found equal distribution of pay-per-use recreational facilities, “there are notably fewer publically-provided resources such as parks, trails, and play grounds in low and medium SES communities than in high SES communities.”
Our poll indicates that urban residents overall feel they have equal access to parks and fitness facilities compared to those living beyond city borders. But perceptions of lingering inequalities within U.S. urban areas remain.
The Atlantic Media/Siemens State of the City poll, conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates International, surveyed 1,656 U.S. adults by telephone between July 23 and August 4. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.4 percentage points. For more details on the poll's methodology, go here.
*CORRECTION: The caption for the lead image on this story originally misstated its location: pictured is Boston's Public Garden, not Boston Common.