Nothing increases park use and physical activity as much as programming—providing supervised activities to help people make use of the space. Each additional supervised activity increases park use by 48 percent and physical activity by 37 percent. Unfortunately, programs in neighborhood parks are few and far between—especially in parks in high-poverty neighborhoods. Here are some ways to change that.

Programming for seniors

Seniors age 60 and above make up 18 percent of the population but only 4 percent of neighborhood park users. Given that physical activity can have immediate benefits for older folks in preventing or mitigating the impact of chronic diseases, park systems should do everything possible to get seniors active. That includes building better walking trails and adding enhanced programming to provide structure, encouragement, companionship, and fun.

Two seniors use park recreation equipment outdoors while others stand nearby.
Image credit Allana Wesley White

Programming for children

Not surprisingly, children’s use of parks is disproportionately high—what is a park without children? But they, too, greatly benefit from programming, particularly if it includes activities that build physical coordination and social interaction. Parks can also play a critical role fighting hunger during the summer, when there is no free school lunch by coordinating activities with free summer lunch programs.

Children take turns making free throws in an outdoor basketball court.
Image credit Jenna Stamm

Programming for preteen and teen girls

Females are underrepresented in parks, even counting mothers taking young children. Among teenagers, boys outnumber girls 65 to 35 percent. As for active sports, it’s even worse: only 8 out of every 100 girls play sports in neighborhood parks, and for teen girls it’s only 4 out of every 100. Preteen and teen girls need particular attention when it comes to park programming.

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