Place-Making Practices for Park Improvements to Support Environmental Justice in a Low-Income African American Neighborhood

Alexandra H. Carnahan, Lisa Groshong, Sonja A. Wilhelm Stanis, Vidya Balasubramanyam, Asha Kutty

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Place-making practices can facilitate effective place and park design. This study explores the importance of inclusive place-making practices for supporting procedural justice in park design. Place-making is a multifaceted approach to space design and management that seeks to integrate a community's needs for the space. The incorporation of such practices in design is particularly important for low-income minority communities and for promoting environmental justice. While it has been shown that place-making practices can help facilitate social justice and place attachment, research regarding the use of these practices in park design is lacking. As such, this study sought to examine park user perceptions that could be used to facilitate better place-making practices in relation to ongoing design changes at a historically significant park in a low-income, predominantly African American neighborhood. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with park users (n = 30) in June 2015. Interview questions examined community members' use of the park, history and connections to the park, and feelings toward the park changes, which were planned at the time of the interviews but have since been completed. Six overall themes emerged: everyday activities, organized events, belonging, dependence, safety, and political processes. An emphasis on park changes and youth emerged throughout the themes. Interviews revealed a heavy reliance on park features that were scheduled to be removed from the park, with participants questioning how these changes would affect park users and overall park use. While park changes seemed to prioritize green space and a skate park designed to promote physical activity, many park users spoke of a desire to maintain social gathering spaces, including a parking lot and large picnic shelter. This highlights a potential mismatch between the goals of the design changes and neighborhood priorities. A better understanding of how park users connect to and use this park can inform park changes that more appropriately accommodate the community's needs. Such findings suggest that changes to a place necessitate greater understanding of its cultural significance to a community, how changes can positively or negatively influence the community and the use of the space, and how officials can better include the community in the decision-making process. This study provides a foundation for future place-making research aimed at better understanding the unique concerns of low-income minority communities.
Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)93-111
JournalJournal of Park and Recreation Administration
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2020


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