Urban Wire Comparing Washington, D.C.'s Neighborhoods
Jennifer Comey
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NeighborhoodInfo DC, an Urban Institute initiative that provides and analyzes local data on Washington’s wards and neighborhoods, has just released the latest edition of State of Washington, D.C.’s Neighborhoods prepared for the D.C. Office of Planning, which tracks trends in demographics, the economy, education, health, safety, and four other areas of District life. The Washington Post highlighted how much the report’s environmental and quality-of-life indicators—the number of “green” buildings, tree canopy coverage, access to parks and recreation centers, and more—vary by ward and neighborhood.  No surprise—we also found that some of the poorest neighborhoods have less green development and green access.

Parks and recreation deserve even more attention since they help green the citizenry’s consciousness and help address the city’s current obesity epidemic.  In 2009, the Centers for Disease Control estimated that 19.7% of all adults in the District of Columbia were obese. The problem is worst in Wards 5, 7, 8 (some of the city’s poorest wards), as well as Ward 4. Although many factors contribute to obesity, two that come to mind here are access to healthy food and exercise. As Greg Mills noted in a recent blog, some of the poorest neighborhoods—food deserts—lack access to fresh fruits and vegetables. Meanwhile our new report reveals that access to parks and recreation centers, free opportunities to be active and exercise, continues to vary by ward although the discrepancy is now less for rec centers.

For the average Washingtonian, the nearest public park is 552 feet away – about a two-minute walk.  In Ward 6, a ward with both high-income and low-income neighborhoods, the distance is only 417 feet. In Ward 8, with the city’s highest concentrations of poverty and obesity rates, it’s twice that far (832 feet).

It’s good news that recreation centers dot the cityscape at more or less regular intervals. The average resident of Ward 1 had the shortest distance to travel (1,545 feet) while counterparts in Ward 3 (an affluent ward) had to go the farthest (2,338 feet). The average Ward 8 resident had to travel only 2,087 feet. (Click here for a data file showing all indicators at the ward and neighborhood level.)

We didn’t assess the quality of DC’s parks or recreation centers or measure how much they actually get used. Clearly, having a park across the street is no boon if neighbors feel unsafe or the park is not kept up.  But the next step is to dig deeper to find out whether proximity really translates into access and eventually into health benefits.  Ultimately, high quality parks and recreation centers that are distributed equitably across our neighborhoods and widely used makes the District a better place to live.

Public Parks in Washington, D.C.

Research Areas Children and youth
Tags Poverty Hunger and food assistance Infrastructure Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)