Urban regions are enjoying a renaissance due in part to the in-filling of abandoned industrial sites into new housing, shopping centers, and urban parks. This smart growth strategy has the potential to improve the quality of life for urban residents, many of whom are lower income and minority citizens. Existing community development resources have been directed primarily toward acquisition and construction of these areas. However, there is a need to first understand how citizens will perceive and use these areas once converted. If park in-fill development is to be successful, it will need to be consistent with citizens desire for attractive, safe, and accessible parks. Yet, little is known about public perception and use of urban park in-fills after they have been established. This study examined the relationship between visitor perceptions, distance, sociodemographic characteristics and intention to visit a new urban park in-fill.
Data was collected at a new park in-fill in Cleveland, Ohio. A questionnaire was distributed to park visitors who came to this park during its first year of operation. Of the 732 visitors contacted, 505 returned the survey for a response rate of 69%. Regression analysis indicated that perceived accessibility, convenience, compatibility, and relative advantage over existing neighborhood parks were significantly related to future visitation intentions. The farther visitors lived from the new park in-fill, the less likely they were to visit it on a regular basis. Visitors who perceived this in-fill to be better than, more convenient, or more accessible than other parks, were more likely to report future visitation intentions. However, visitors who felt that this park in-fill was incompatible with surrounding communities were also more likely to report future visitation intentions. There were no significant relationships between demographic characteristics and intentions to visit this park in the future.
Results also indicated that shorter distances were critical to establishing a strong user base. For urban park in-fills, direct park access may be necessary to attract visitors not willing to drive to these parks. More widespread visitation from nearby, but non-adjacent neighborhoods could be enhanced with the addition and extension of trail/greenway connectors leading to the main body of nearby park in-fills. Moreover, improving citizens perceptions of park accessibility and convenience (compared to existing opportunities) will be critical if planners are to attract more widespread use of urban park in-fills. Results of this study are limited by the small item pool used to measure in-fill perceptions, by surveying only park users rather than a general population of both park users and non-users, and by measuring behavioral intentions rather than actual behavior. Future studies could build upon this research by addressing these concerns and examining how the use and perception of park in-fills change over time. Moreover, public views regarding environmental and personal safety at these new park settings are also a concern and should be considered in future research. As urban regions continue to pursue smart growth strategies, park in-fills will become more commonplace. Park and recreation professionals are encouraged to understand the unique circumstances presented by these promising opportunities.