Active use and perceptions of parks as urban assets for physical activity: A mixed-methods study

Mario Fontán-Vela, Jesús Rivera-Navarro, Pedro Gullón*, Julia Díez, Isabelle Anguelovski, Manuel Franco

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

7 Citations (Scopus)


Parks are potential key urban assets for improved population health; however, their use is not equal among all social groups. Individual and contextual factors could influence residents' perceptions of parks and how they interact with and, eventually, benefit from them. The use of complementary methodologies provides a deeper understanding of the relationship between park use, physical activity (PA), and residents' perceptions. Thus, we designed a mixed-methods study to analyze differences in park use and PA, and the perceptions of parks as urban assets for PA. We selected six parks from three neighborhoods in Madrid (Spain) with different neighborhood socioeconomic status (NSES) for systematic social observation. We registered park users by age, PA level (low, medium, and high), gender, and NSES using the System for Observing Play and Recreation in Communities (SOPARC) audit tool adapted for iOS software (iSOPARC). We also conducted 37 semi-structured interviews and 29 focus groups to analyze residents’ perceptions of parks as urban assets for PA in the same neighborhoods. We adopted a convergent-parallel design to analyze both quantitative and qualitative data, and to describe the convergence and divergence areas between them. Parks within the high-NSES were more visited, showing a higher proportion of people performing high PA (11.9%) as compared to residents of the middle (9.3%) and low-NSES (3.2%). Female visitors showed lower PA levels compared to men, especially for parks within high-NSES. The following issues were reported as influence urban park use and perceptions: park maintenance and area perception, works constraints, insecurity and crime, differential perceptions by age, and the availability of organized activities in the parks. Residents from high-NSES reported fewer barriers to park use compared to residents from the other areas, who reported limitations such as less leisure time due to job constrains or perceived insecurity in parks. Senior participants reported that having parks with organized activities and a design oriented towards different age-groups are valuable. Our study shows consistency between the fewer and less intense use of parks registered in the middle and low-NSES neighborhoods, and the more barriers for PA reported in this areas during the qualitative analysis. Mixed-methods provided an insight of the potential causes leading to the differences in park use and PA within cities, which is essential in terms of environmental justice and health equity. Thus, a mixed-methods comprehensive approach to public health problems can help designing public policies addressing relevant factors related to urban health inequities.

Original languageEnglish
Article number102660
JournalHealth and Place
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2021


  • 8 words): mixed-methods
  • Green space
  • Health inequities
  • Parks
  • Physical activity
  • Spain
  • Urban environments
  • Use


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