People, Parks, Power: Survey shows how residents use parks and what would increase participation

Editor's note: This is the fifth in a series of articles — People, Parks & Power — that dives into the commitment of local people working to make long-term, systemic changes to positively affect greenspaces and — in turn — the overall health and well-being of Springfield's Southside and beyond.

Most residents questioned in a local survey in 2022 either weren’t aware of the planning process behind Springfield’s Engaged Neighborhood Plan or chose not to participate in it.

“It’s nothing more than the powers that be doing things to the people rather than with them,” says Karlos L. Marshall, co-founder and co-executive director of The Conscious Connect CDC, a local nonprofit organization that received a national $500,000 People, Parks, and Power (P3) grant to promote park equity.

The P3 survey about park accessibility, programming, safety and amenities focused on the southside of Springfield, and most of the 250 respondents were current or former residents within the 45505 and 45506 zip codes. 

The survey revealed that 44 percent of respondents weren’t aware of the planning process, while another 34 percent said they did not participate in it.

“A third of residents intentionally decided not to engage in the process. That should be alarming to the city,” Marshall says.

The survey also showed that almost 78 percent of the respondents were either not informed or only somewhat informed about the Engaged Neighborhood Plan, which came together through three public workshops, one of which was online due to pandemic protocols.

At a recent engagement event people filled out surveys collecting data on how residents use parks and more. The results represent a historical lack of engagement by city officials and other organizations and agencies, all of which should be more intentional in their community engagement strategies, Marshall says.

“That’s really what this is, is a power imbalance,” says Marshall, who noted that the P3 survey collected more responses than the Engaged Neighborhood Plan.

That plan included recommendations for the southwest quadrant of Springfield, and the city has as a result approved the construction of a playground with a boxing theme and a skateboard park at Davey Moore Park, located at 600 S. Western Ave. The P3 survey showed that nearly half of respondents said they were “not informed” about the plans at Davey Moore Park, while about 25 percent were either “very informed” or “informed.”

To Marshall, the survey results show that many people question whether their voices matter and think that even if they participated in the process, they believe their ideas wouldn’t be considered.

At Culture Fest people filled out surveys collecting data on how resident use parks, and more. Too many times leaders go through the motions of conducting a survey without asking why some people may not be engaging in the process, he says. 

“We need entities and leaders to stop looking at gathering data as a checkbox,” Marshall says.

Data for the P3 survey was collected for six months starting last June, says Destinye Arnold, project manager for The Conscious Connect and leader of the P3 effort. That included canvassing and spreading the word at a number of events, including three major ones: the Juneteenth celebration at The Gammon House, South Side in Bloom, and CultureFest.

“It was definitely a lot of community engagement,” she says.

The goal was to connect with residents in the southwest quadrant of the city and use the survey results as a foundation for policy recommendations that are “highly influenced by resident opinion,” she says.

The survey also showed that at least 69 percent of respondents live within a 10-minute walk of a park, while at least 46 percent are within a 5-minute walk. Parks include pocket parks and other greenspaces.

“The Conscious Connect has played a significant role in that regard,” Marshall says.

At a recent engagement event people filled out surveys collecting data on how residents use parks and more. The organization has created parks and greenspaces on Woodward Avenue, Linden Avenue and at the corner of West Grand Avenue and Plum Street, and he says that other pocket parks have appeared as well.

South Side in Bloom is an annual event that has showcased community gardens and neighborhood parks throughout the city’s south side for the last two years. That includes locations overseen by members of the Unified Collective, which is a group of local organizations collaborating to revitalize the south side of Springfield.

However, high-quality greenspaces within walking distance of residents shouldn’t depend on grassroots efforts, Marshall says, and there isn’t a city funding source to sustain the efforts. Limited funding in general is a challenge for improving greenspaces.

The survey also asked about the modes of transportation used to get to and from the parks, and most people drive, Arnold says. The survey specifically asked about biking as well as walking or running to the parks, too.

“We really want to understand: Are you using them? And if not, how can we get you to?” says Arnold, who also notes that boosting amenities like the bike path could increase the number of people who are using the nearby greenspaces.

The Conscious Connect will continue to engage with the community as it works toward policy recommendations, Arnold says. That includes sharing the survey results through community feedback sessions and social media.

Policy recommendations will be aimed toward a variety of groups, such as elected officials, the city, the local parks department, private foundations, and other funders, Marshall says.

Residents want improved infrastructure, increased safety, and more programming, he says. The P3 survey has allowed more people to be heard.

“This process and this survey is giving people a voice,” Marshall says.

To read the survey results visit here. 

This story and the People, Park, Power series is supported through underwriting by The Conscious Connect. 

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Read more articles by Diane Erwin.

Diane Erwin is a freelance writer and former reporter for the Springfield News-Sun. A graduate of Ohio State University, her articles have appeared in a number of publications in Springfield and Dayton. In addition to her journalism background, she has worked in marketing and written copy for businesses throughout the country. In her spare time, she likes to read, dream about Schuler’s donuts, and travel near and far with her husband and two children.