Size DOES matter (and so does distance)

Both size and distance matter in determining whether park and recreation service is adequate.

parks, open space planning, pennsylvania, philadelphia, recreation, scale


Andrew Dobshinsky


Jacqueline Marion


A common way to represent park and recreation service is in acres per thousand residents. While this is helpful for benchmarking, it does not address access or capacity. Another common way to represent service is to draw walking distances around facilities. While this addresses access, it does not address capacity. A better approach is to analyze both park size and distance together, as WRT did for GreenPlan Philadelphia. A facility's size indicates how many people it can serve. Typically, this is on the order of 500 people per acre. Also, though a facility may be large and can serve many people, people are often unwilling to travel more than a half mile to a park or recreation facility.What does this mean? Take two one-acre parks, Park A and Park B. Park A is in a dense neighborhood, where 1,000 people live within a half mile of the park. Park B is in a less dense

neighborhood, where 250 people live within a half mile of the park. Each neighborhood has an acre of parkland and each park can serve 500 people, but Park A's effective service area is smaller than a half mile because many more people are in close proximity, effectively shrinking its service area. Park B's effective service area, on the other hand, is limited by the maximum walking distance of a half mile, even though it is used under capacity.

It’s important to meet the needs of people in the areas in which they live—and in the places where plans support more residences. The right analysis allows for understanding of where those needs exist. Even in very constrained situations, it can help guide decision making about how to make the most of existing opportunities.