Parks evolve over time. By responding to community needs—and often by working in partnerships to stretch dollars further—city parks departments can make design improvements that enhance health. Here are some elements found to be most significant by The National Study of Neighborhood Parks:

Walking loops

Compared to other parks, parks with walking loops were found to have 80 percent more users, over twice as many seniors, and 90 percent higher levels of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity. The additional use and activity occurred not only on the loops but throughout the entire park. Significantly, only 29 percent of neighborhood parks have walking loops, even though they generate the highest amount of physical activity of any park facility for all age groups—and they have by far the greatest positive impact on seniors (who may prefer the relative increased safety of a smooth, uninterrupted path away from motor vehicle traffic).

Children play round a play structure surrounded by a paved pathway.
Image credit Bryan Tarnowski

Play areas

Most people visiting the park are taking their children, and about 25 percent of all children’s park use takes place in play areas.

Not all playgrounds inspire equal amounts of activity. With playgrounds, more is better. The National Study of Neighborhood Parks found that for every play element added to a playground, use (and activity level) increases by 50 percent. Spraygrounds and spinners are particularly popular.

But playgrounds don’t have to be just for kids. Multigenerational playgrounds, as well as playgrounds with adjacent fitness zones, are an increasingly popular way for both children and their caregivers to get a positive dose of physical activity.

A smiling young woman balances on play structure equipment.
Image credit Annie Bang


Even when a park features great amenities, a beautiful setting, varied programming, and easy accessibility, if it doesn’t have public restrooms, many park users may stay away. Park restrooms increase park use by 118%. However, maintenance of traditional brick-and-mortar bathrooms can place significant burdens on park agencies—from routine cleaning to removing graffiti and even dealing with the theft of copper pipes. Portable sanitation units (“port-a-potties”) are affordable and offer great flexibility, but they can be awkward to use and impinge on park image.

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