Park Access for Healthy Living

NJHI 2018: Upstream Action Acceleration Camden-specific Module to the NJ Conservation Blueprint Online Mapping Tool

The Green + Healthy Camden collaboration is working to create a Camden-specific mapping tool through the NJ Conservation Blueprint that illustrates the environmental factors affecting health outcomes in Camden, with a focus on the barriers to accessing public parks and green space in the city. The map will allow local organizations to better identify and prioritize areas throughout the City of Camden that would benefit from the variety of health initiatives already being evaluated, planned or implemented in the city, and will provide a tool to identify areas of need. This mapping tool can provide the many stakeholders committed to strengthening and empowering Camden with the strategic information required for coordinated and informed land use decisions, producing healthier outcomes for Camden residents.

It is important to think strategically about developing and implementing systems change for addressing Camden City’s pressing need to provide access to places that encourage an active lifestyle. The best way to understand this community need is to ask the residents of Camden who are interested in spending more time outside but who experience the daily barriers to accessing their parks and other resources to improve their health. In partnership with the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia, Bike Camden County and Tri-State Transportation Campaign, we organized a community event at the Salvation Army Kroc Center in Cramer Hill to hear directly from the people of Camden about park access and healthy, active living.

An interactive mapping activity using pointed discussion questions to guide conversations about how people use their public parks and green spaces illustrated the different neighborhood and park characteristics that influence accessibility throughout the city. The event drew 40 people representing a mix of local residents and organizations, including a number of children who shared with us their favorite aspects of their neighborhood parks. Some people discussed the limitations and opportunities of Camden parks as a whole, while others focused on the positive and negative aspects of their local neighborhood parks.

This event was a part of a larger outreach effort to learn how the NJ Conservation Blueprint tool can support the work of 20 local and regional organizations working to improve health outcomes in Camden. Through these conversations and this larger community event, we learned that park quality issues deter people from visiting their parks, even if they are within walking and biking distance. The top issues we found included illegal dumping, crime, lack of maintenance, lighting, and the availability and condition of sidewalks. We also learned that people are very interested in visiting their parks more often and would be more likely to do so if some of these problems were addressed.

Following this outreach, NJ Conservation Foundation conducted a survey of every park in Camden to understand the frequency and location of the barriers outlined by local organizations and residents. Together, the Blueprint team has worked to organize the information gathered during outreach and in the park survey while finding the corresponding data to include in the mapping tool. Reach out to us to share your input for the NJ Conservation Blueprint map that will illustrate barriers to accessing parks, open space, and other important resources that support healthy lifestyles in Camden. 

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Julia Raskin
NJ Conservation Foundation