Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Community Planning (MCP)


Community Planning

First Advisor

Robert Thompson


Scholarship on environmental justice has focused on such issues as the concentration of hazardous commercial activities and lack of transportation options in poorer, minority communities. Although we must recognize and address the discriminatory distribution of environmental harms, real environmental justice also requires a fair distribution of such environmental goods as the presence of high quality green space and different forms of recreational activities. Ulrich (1993) argues that urban civilizations throughout the centuries have made continuous efforts to maintain contact with natural settings through gardens or parks. Furthermore, he states that providing parks can improve psychological and physical well-being in addition to reducing stress associated with urban living.

There often appears to be an inequitable distribution of green spaces and outdoor recreational opportunities within urban areas; low-income and minority neighborhoods lack such resources or have poor quality facilities and spaces while upper income neighborhoods have more resources that are adequately maintained. This study will first, examine the distribution of green spaces and outdoor recreational opportunities and determine if there is a correlation between the quantity of these resources and socioeconomic characteristics of the neighborhoods where they are located. Second, the quality of these resources will be analyzed and compared to demographics. For the purpose of this proposal, parks and open space under the administration of a municipality will be analyzed.

A case study of Providence, Rhode Island, a small urban area of approximately 11,800 acres and a population of 173,000, is used to test the hypothesis. Using statistical analyses and quality assessment through field observations, conclusions are made about the relationship between the distribution of accessible, quality parks and open spaces and the social and economic indicators. It was found that the distribution of parks and open spaces within the city are equitable; however, the quality of these resources varies. The city meets the national standard of 6 to 10 parks per 1,000 residents as set by the National Parks and Recreation Association. The highest ranked parks are located in areas that are diverse in race and ethnicity as well as income indicators, but the truly lower income areas with a majority of the minority populations do not have high quality parks. The lowest ranking parks are also located in areas of diverse race, ethnicity and incomes. The biggest difference in the quality of parks is the cleanliness, such as litter, graffiti and glass. Parks in lower-income areas had the biggest problem with litter along chain link fences that surrounded the parks and graffiti on buildings and play equipment. There are also issues of security where parks are locked, even during the day, which creates a barrier to access.

There needs to be further research into the social, economic and political context of the city to better understand the reasons for the distribution varying qualities of parks and open spaces. For example, users might be surveyed to understand usability and functionality of existing parks and determine the need for additional facilities. Additionally, the political relationships and resources for maintenance within the study area might also influence the distribution of parks and open spaces. If these relationships could be analyzed, park development in the city could be understood at an even different level. Factors that could be looked at may include city budgets, allocation of funding, projects supported by various councilpersons or activities of grassroots and neighborhood organizations. This paper is intended to provide a base for further, more in depth research into the equality in green spaces in the neighborhoods of urban areas.



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