Playground Accessibility and Neighbourhood Social Interaction Among Parents

by Scott A. Bennet, Nikolaos Yiannakoulias, Allison M. Williams, Peter Kitchen

Playground, Scott BennetWhile the positive association between social interaction and access to green space (in a broad sense) is well accepted, little research has sought to understand how different forms of green space – such as sports fields, playgrounds and community gardens- facilitate social interaction within a community.

Our focus is on playgrounds, which are spaces designed to facilitate play and the interaction of children, but may also be important places of interaction between parents. In our paper we examine how access to playground spaces is related to social interaction between parents in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada.

The absence of research on how playgrounds specifically facilitate positive social interactions between parents limits our understanding of the ways in which different types of green spaces can contribute positively to social interaction and community building generally.

It may also overlook the potential of playgrounds to promote greater playground use, which would further benefit the social and physical development of children.  Our paper attempts to address this absence in the literature and understand the degree to which social interaction is associated with accessibility to playgrounds spaces.

Our results suggest that while accessibility is associated with social interaction between adults who have children, the effect is opposite to existing literature on green space and social interaction. We find that distance to the nearest playground is positively associated with neighbourhood interaction, suggesting that those respondents who have to travel further to their closest playground also interact with their neighbours more frequently. In terms of accessibility, this suggests that the farther parents have to travel to a playground, the more likely they will be socially engaged with their neighbours.

Playgrounds are an important form of public green space but are typically highly localized compared to parks. Playgrounds are also designed with a subset of the general population in mind.  This paper shows that different forms of green space could have a different effect on social interaction but to date, most research on the relationship between green space and social interaction fails to distinguish between the different classes of green space, or how they may facilitate distinct social behaviours.  Our findings show that the type of green space is important for understanding its relationship with social interaction and conclude that future research on the relationships between health and urban green space could benefit from classifying these spaces into explicit sub-types (e.g. playgrounds, recreation sports fields, natural green parks).

This study is a part of the Hamilton Quality of Life Special Issue of Social Indicators Research coming out in 2012 and used data collected in the Hamilton Household Quality of Life Survey conducted by McMaster University.

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