Neighborhood parks can make communities stronger and residents healthier, but they need investment to produce results.

The recent National Study of Neighborhood Parks from the City Parks Alliance, one of the largest studies of the impact of neighborhood parks, found parks that are well-designed, marketed and used for programs bring neighbors together and increase physical activity.

The study also found that simply living near a park is not enough to make people use it. Many parks are underused by people who live near them. Investments in programs, walking loops, playground equipment, programs and other amenities are critical to getting people to use the park and generate community benefits.

Playing with children is a leading reason why people visit parks, and playgrounds are a great investment for communities wanting to get families more active.

“With playgrounds, more is better.” said the study summary “for every play element added to a playground, use (and activity level) increases by 50 percent.”

Accessible walking loops are also a critical investment, particularly for seniors. They study found that parks with walking loops have 80 percent more users, twice as many users over 65, and nearly double the amount of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity.

Kansas communities are finding creative ways to combine public dollars and grants to make the large investments needed in many neighborhood parks.

Shawnee County Parks and Recreation recently oversaw a substantial upgrade of Topeka’s parks financed with a $200,000 public investment and a $250,000 grant from GameTime, an Alabama-based commercial playground company. The investment allowed new swings, slides, climbing structures and other play elements for 11 parks spread throughout the community, 10% of the county park system. Many of the parks also received new concrete walking paths, shelters, basketball courts and other amenities.

More than 20 Kansas communities received grant dollars in 2019 from the Kansas Department of Health and Environment Waste Tires Grants program for parks projects re-purposing tire material. Reused tires are often used for loose-fill mulch, pour-in-place surfaces, walking trails, tables and benches. The city of Prairie Village will use the grant dollars to connect play equipment to existing sidewalks, completing walking loops and increasing accessibility.

Neighborhood parks have the potential to benefit our communities, if we invest wisely in the amenities that serve Kansans.