Beyond the Ribbon Cutting: The Impact of a Neighborhood Park Renovation on Visitor Experiences, Behaviors, and Evaluations
Keywords:Capital improvements, neighborhood parks, perceived quality, renovations
AbstractThe benefits of neighborhood parks have been well documented, yet there is a growing need for agencies to provide evidence beyond the anecdotal that demonstrates the impact of park renovations. Recent studies have examined whether park renovations correspond with increased visitation and physical activity, but none have examined the extent to which visitors are aware of renovations and whether they improve user experiences and quality perceptions. Such perceptions might indirectly influence support for future park renovations and, as such, merit research attention. This study aimed to address these gaps and examined whether visitors to the newly renovated Cedar Creek Parkway in Allentown, Pennsylvania, were aware of renovations and the extent to which the renovations influenced their park behaviors and experiences. The quality of specific park features was also compared pre- to post-renovation at Cedar Creek and at a nearby unrenovated park. Cedar Creek renovations included trail paving, new exercise stations, stream quality improvements, upgraded picnic areas, new footbridges, and a new destination playground. Visitors at both parks were surveyed on-site in 2008 before the renovation (N = 410) and in 2011 after the renovations (N = 522). Results indicated most visitors were aware of the renovation and could cite at least one specific change. The playground, trail paving, and exercise stations were the top renovations mentioned. In terms of park behaviors, a majority of Cedar Creek visitors perceived the renovations caused them to visit more frequently and stay longer. With regard to experiences, a majority of Cedar Creek visitors agreed the renovation allowed them to enjoy their park visits more. The renovation was also associated with other measures of the recreation experience such as improved park quality perceptions. From pre- to post-renovation, seven of 13 quality indicators increased significantly at Cedar Creek and there were few changes at the comparison park. Cedar Creek visitors rated park cleanliness, facility maintenance, availability of drinking water and picnic facilities, quality of the creek/lake, condition of the trails/paths, and cleanliness of restrooms higher in 2011 than in 2008. This study adds to a growing and important body of evidence that moves beyond anecdotal claims by demonstrating the impacts of park renovations. In addition to their potential for increasing park use and physical activity, park renovations result in experientialchanges such as increased visitor enjoyment and improved quality. If these improved perceptions translate into a more supportive park constituency, there is greater reason to recommend more widespread renovation initiatives. However, it is unclear whether renovations increase subsequent attitudes toward future park capital expenditures, and this is a fertile area for future inquiry.
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