Urban Form and Social Context: Cultural Differentiation in the Uses of Urban Parks

Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris

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Loukaitou-Sideris, A. (1). Urban Form and Social Context: Cultural Differentiation in the Uses of Urban Parks. Journal of Planning Education and Research, 14(2), 89–102. http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/0739456X9501400202

The paper examines four case studies of neighborhood parks in socially and ethnically diverse communities of Los Angeles in order to explore similarities and differences of their uses and assigned meanings. More specifically, the study utilizes structured field observations and surveys of users in order to examine sociocultural patterns of park use, the relevance of past models of park design, and the level of fit between current park form and contemporary user needs.

Main finding
The study found significant differences between racial groups in the way each group comes to the park (alone, with family, with friends or other), the type of group association at the park (individual, couple, peers, parent/child, or family), the type of activities engaged in at the park (stationary, mobile, sports or other), and the most liked park qualities (aesthetic, psychological/perceptual, social, relaxation, educational or physiological). Field observations showed that the parks are neither 'melting pots' nor 'battle grounds' for neighborhoods where different social groups typically coexist but they do not tend to mix, the children’s playground was the only park facility that drew people of diverse sociocultural strata, contemporary neighborhood parks do not offer effective group settings that take into account the different use patterns of men, women, children, young adults, the elderly, different ethnic groups, or the homeless, and the neighborhood parks rest on the assumption that the mixing of physical elements (greenery, play fields, sitting areas, play equipment) in accordance with professional design standards can address the different needs of the users - standardization and functionality.

Description of method used in the article
This study examines four neighborhood parks (popular, highly utilized, multiuse settings for both active and passive recreation facilities) in socially and ethnically diverse communities around Los Angeles. Two complementary research methods were used for this study - 30 minute observation sessions recorded all activities taking place within the boundaries of each subarea of the park using a behavioral mapping procedure and surveys of systematic random samples of 80 park users (40 on a weekday and 40 on a weekend).

Of practical use

Organising categories

Field Observations Survey
Urban Planning
Physical types
Geographic locations