Public parks and green spaces are important health promoting facilities for urban dwellers, which can bring about improved health outcomes, diminished racial tensions and reduced public stress. Access to urban parks and green spaces is purported to be associated with the development of social capital, increased community well-being and inclusive neighbourhoods. It is within this context that recent decades have witnessed increasing efforts in measuring and modelling park accessibility in cities. Previous studies, however, found significant inconsistency between subjectively (perceived) and objectively (geographic) measured accessibility, indicating the need to examine existing conceptualisation of park accessibility, especially at the individual perceptual level.
The accessibility concept has been developed as a multi-dimensional construct that requires a more adequate understanding about its influential factors and dimensions. Existing measures of accessibility have been limited to the concept’s physical and temporal dimensions, leaving other relevant factors such as social conditions and personal constraints, including perceptions, largely unexplored. This research argues for the relevance of socio-personal factors to realistically assess accessibility to urban public parks. There is also a need to clarify how accessibility influences an individual’s decision-making process that ultimately leads to human behaviour of park use or non-use, as psychological study of behavioural intentions to use parks has rarely been investigated. Following a correlational research design and cross-sectional validation approach, this research was proposed to fill these knowledge gaps.
The research involved both processes of model development and model validation. Two models were proposed in this study: an expanded theory of planned behavioural (TPB) model and an integrated model of park accessibility. The first model aims to identify the role of park accessibility in influencing individual behavioural intentions towards park use and non-use. The model was developed based on the theory of planned behaviour, with three additional variables included (i.e., perceived park accessibility, geographic proximity, and past use) to compare their relative importance in influencing park use intentions. The second model was proposed based on the critical literature review of the accessibility concept. The model consists of five dimensions, including both physical and socio-personal variables that were identified as being associated with urban park access and use.
Both models were empirically tested using questionnaire survey data collected from two cities of different socio-cultural settings: Brisbane (Australia) and Zhongshan (China). Within each city, sampling was carefully designed to represent residents of different socioeconomic backgrounds with an aim of modelling the differences between population groups. Data were analysed quantitatively using statistical methods and spatial analytical techniques. Key findings from this study include: • Empirical findings from this study consistently support the multidimensional nature of the accessibility construct, with results from different case studies confirming that both physical and non-physical factors significantly influence perceived access to urban parks.
• The expanded TPB model with perceived accessibility provides the best model fit and highest explanatory power, while also enhancing the prediction of park use intentions.
• Perceived access is more important than geographic proximity in predicting urban park use, with physical and locational features (e.g. proximity and travel time) the most important predictors in influencing perceived access to parks.
• Less important, but statistically significant, socio-personal dimensions of accessibility are more sensitive to the larger social and cultural context of urban settings, with cultural groups using the parks, shared activities, and safety highlighted as more important non-physical variables to predict perceived access to parks in both city settings.
• Lower income groups have significantly lower perceived access to parks than higher income respondents living in the same cities.
From an urban planning perspective, this study highlights the importance of moving beyond the realm of conventional planning with physical standards to embrace the important findings of social analysis. The provision of parks is a necessary but insufficient condition to actually increase park use, especially in lower SES communities. Communities with lower SES and people with less mobility are population segments that should receive special attentions to ensure a more efficient and equitable urban service delivery. Therefore, it is important for planners and policy makers to enhance the evidence base whilst mindful of community diversity to provide optimal social outcomes. Possible policy interventions highlighted by this study include but are not limited to: ensuring public parks are reasonably proximate to residential locations; providing quality footpath amenities such as shade and lighting to create a walkable urban landscape; and providing opportunities to develop and sustain an inclusive community culture.
In sum, this study was able to address the research gaps by providing insights into individual decision-making towards urban park use. The models were empirically modified and validated in two different cultural settings, thus providing practical tools for urban planners and base frameworks that can be applied to other urban services in future studies.