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Low-Income Neighborhoods In Kansas City Have More Parks, Fewer Playgrounds

Sylvia Maria Gross

Recently, Kansas State University researchers visited every park in Kansas City, Mo., to analyze the distribution of parks and park amenities throughout the city.

They found low-income neighborhoods, including Kansas City's east side, have fewer playgrounds than high-income neighborhoods. That’s in spite of having a higher concentration of parkland in those same neighborhoods. Researchers studied 219 parks and about 12,000 acres of parkland.

Green space in low-income areas

Low-income neighborhoods in Kansas City tend to be located in older parts of the urban core. These parts of the city were built before car ownership was common, when development trends included pedestrian access to parks and green spaces within neighborhoods. The green spaces remain, but certain amenities are not evenly distributed.

The distribution of amenities

The study collected data on a number of Kansas City park facilities and amenities. But only two kinds of facilities are unevenly distributed: playgrounds and basketball courts. Playgrounds are more abundant in high-income neighborhoods than in low-income neighborhoods. Meanwhile, basketball courts are more plentiful in neighborhoods with high-minority populations than in predominantly white neighborhoods.

Kansas City Parks Superintendent Forest Decker says Parks and Recreation officials consult with neighborhood residents on the amenities they’d like to see in their parks; some prefer basketball courts to playgrounds.

“Most neighborhoods that really, really want a playground, we find a way to make that happen,” Decker says.

This year, he's gotten more requests for playground upgrades than for new ones; many existing playgrounds are 20 to 25 years old. Parks and Rec is building two new playgrounds and replacing eight older ones.

Other findings

Parks in low-income neighborhoods have fewer “aesthetic features”— like water fountains, lighting fixtures and picnic tables — than those located in middle-income areas.

Study author Katherine Vaughan says that park patrons tend to get more exercise in parks with more interactive amenities. And if the park has restrooms and water fountains, people tend to stay longer.

This look at Kansas City's east side is part of KCUR's months-long examination of how geographic borders affect our daily lives in Kansas City. KCUR will go Beyond Our Borders and spark a community conversation through social outreach and innovative journalism.

We will share the history of these lines, how the borders affect the current Kansas City experience and what's being done to bridge or dissolve them. Be a source for Beyond Our Borders: Share your perspective and experiences east ofTroost Avenue with KCUR

Sylvia Maria Gross is storytelling editor at KCUR 89.3. Reach her on Twitter @pubradiosly.
People don't make cameos in news stories; the human story is the story, with characters affected by news events, not defined by them. As a columnist and podcaster, I want to acknowledge what it feels like to live through this time in Kansas City, one vantage point at a time. Together, these weekly vignettes form a collage of daily life in Kansas City as it changes in some ways, and stubbornly resists change in others. You can follow me on Twitter @GinaKCUR or email me at gina@kcur.org.