Access to Nature
Like access to parks, access to nature and recreation represents a difficult assessment task. Indications of the number, size and quality of parks and recreation centers is a rather limited indicator of access. Recent estimates for the US suggest that on average, people are expected to travel 6.7 miles to reach their neighborhood parks. Clearly, distance represents a barrier to access, as does cost in terms of fees, and other less easily obtained measures of effective cost, such as the availability of transportation, parking, and concerns about safety.
While Geographic Information Systems (GIS) technology is playing an increasingly important role in these assessments, the availability of reliable data about park amenities remains a serious problem. Unfortunately, on the basis of data available at the time (2006), Tucson had not met any of the “current national guidelines in any of its park or facilities categories.” A more recent report (2011) from The Trust for Public Land rates Tucson well below the median for cities with low population density in terms of “Park Acres as Percent of Land Area” (3.1%). Tucson’s rating is also quite low in terms of “Acres of Parkland per 1,000 Residents” (7.2 in a group with a median rate of 20.3).
In 2006, Tucson’s Parks and Recreation Department issued its “Ten Year Strategic Service Plan.” and improving accessibility to its parks was a central component. In addition, the Plan emphasized the importance of “providing connectivity between parks, open space and recreational facilities.”
Tucson’s commitment to achieving “equitable access to parks and recreation facilities for all citizens of Tucson” in its Strategic Service Plan represents a step in the right direction.