- Connecting with nature is associated with social, physical, and emotional benefits such as stress relief, improved physical health, and lower crime. Parks and other natural areas offer spaces in which to connect with nature and reap these and other benefits (e.g., family bonding, social events, learning). Despite increasing populations of racial and ethnic minorities in the United States of America, these groups are underrepresented in many outdoor recreation activities and in visitation to many parks and other protected areas. This underrepresentation and other attributes of park visitation can be partially explained through the theoretical lens of constraints to recreation. Constraints are factors that limit participation, affect leisure preferences, and / or reduce enjoyment and satisfaction with recreation experiences. Examples of constraints include inability to afford park fees, fear of crime in parks, and lack of available leisure time. This thesis contains two standalone articles focusing on resident constraints to visiting urban parks and other natural areas in the Portland, Oregon (USA) metropolitan region. These articles examine: (a) the most common constraints to visiting these parks and natural areas, and whether these constraints vary between traditionally well-served (i.e., white majority residents) and underserved (i.e., ethnic and racial minorities) populations; (b) relationships among constraints, park visitation, and place attachment for both of these groups of residents; and (c) how constraints groups, different types of constraints, and resident characteristics (e.g., minorities) are distributed spatially across this metropolitan region.
Data were obtained from mail and online questionnaires completed by two samples of residents in Clackamas, Multnomah, and Washington counties: (a) a proportionate random sample of residents mostly targeting the following groups: African Americans / Blacks, American Indians, Asians, Hispanics / Latinos, Middle Eastern peoples, and Slavic / Eastern European peoples (i.e., probability sample); and (b) a convenience sample of Opt-In panel members (i.e., nonprobability sample). Questionnaires were completed by a total of 3,328 residents across these samples, and the data were weighted by the most recent Census based on county, age, sex (male, female), and education to be representative of adult residents in this region. Race and other demographics were consistent with the Census after weighting.
Results of the first article showed that the primary constraints to visiting parks and natural areas in this urban region were being too busy to visit, limited knowledge about Metro parks, and lack of access to these places (Metro parks are managed by Metro, which is the main regional government for Clackamas, Multnomah, and Washington counties). There were no differences in these constraints and most other constraints between traditionally underserved and well-served populations. Traditionally underserved residents, however, were significantly more constrained than the well-served residents were by race and cultural issues at parks, as well as lack of facilities and services at Metro parks. Traditionally well-served residents visited all parks and natural areas in the region significantly more often than did the underserved residents, but there were no differences in visitation to Metro parks or their favorite park. There were also no differences between the two groups in their attachment to their favorite park.
Constraints and visitation explained 15% of the variance in attachment for well-served residents and 38% for underserved residents, and constraints explained 4% of the variance in visitation for well-served residents and 26% for underserved residents. The strongest negative predictor of attachment for well-served residents was Metro parks are not the best places, followed by limited access to these places and disinterest in visiting parks and natural areas. The strongest positive predictor for well-served resident attachment was frequency of visitation, followed by race and cultural issues at Metro parks, and lack of facilities and services in these areas. For underserved residents, the strongest negative predictor of attachment was costs followed by Metro parks are not the best places and limited knowledge about these places. Positive predictors of attachment for these residents included frequency of visitation and lack of facilities and services at Metro parks. The only predictor of visitation to their favorite park for well-served residents was fear of visiting other areas (positive relationship), whereas visitation for underserved residents was negatively associated with limited access to Metro parks and positively associated with costs of visiting other areas.
The second article used a Geographic Information System (GIS) and hot spot analysis of the survey data to determine any spatial patterns in constraints groups, different types of constraints, and resident characteristics (e.g., minorities). Results revealed two major trends: (a) in the northeast area of the region, there is a clustering of minority residents overlapping with the most constrained hot spots and these residents were most affected by constraints associated with health and lack of recreation partners; and (b) residents in the southwest area of the region were most affected by constraints associated with limited knowledge and access to parks.
Specific implications of these results for both management and research are discussed in this thesis. In general, however, these results may inform local agency objectives associated with reaching and engaging various populations, including ethnic and racial minorities. These findings also contribute to the literature by exploring relationships among constraints, park visitation, and attachment between traditionally well-served and underserved populations, and also by applying a GIS analysis of survey data to understand spatial aspects of constraints for each of these populations.