Exploring the Distribution of Park Availability, Features, and Quality Across Kansas City, Missouri by Income and Race/Ethnicity: An Environmental Justice Investigation


How to cite this study

Vaughan, K.B., Kaczynski, A.T., Wilhelm Stanis, S.A., Besenyi, G.M., Bergstrom, R. and Heinrich, K.M. 2013. Exploring the distribution of park availability, features, and quality across Kansas City, Missouri by income and race/ethnicity: An environmental justice investigation. Annals of Behavioral Medicine 45(Suppl_1): S28-S38.


This study explores the disparities in park availability, components, and quality across socioeconomic and racially/ethnically diverse census tracts in Kansas City, Missouri. The authors found that low-income census tracts contained a higher amount of parks, but also had more quality concerns per park and fewer parks with playgrounds. Categorizing census tracts into high minority (where the tract is on average 90% minority residents), medium minority (tract is on average 45.5% minority residents), low minority (average 13.5% minority residents), high minority census tracts had parks with more basketball courts and fewer parks with trails.


This study is relevant to leaders interested in evaluating the equity of access to public parks. In addition to the number of parks, aesthetic features are important to evaluate in outdoor recreation accessibility studies since fewer aesthetic features and concerns like safety can decrease interest and visitation, ultimately leading to fewer benefits for users. 

In the study, park availability was greater in low-income and racially/ethnically diverse areas of Kansas City that are generally located in the older, urban core where the building of parks into neighborhoods was more common. However, these parks may need more investment and support compared to parks located in high-income tracts of the city.


This study is located in Kansas City, Missouri, which includes four counties covering 313 square miles. The population is 441,545 residents.

Trail Type

This study focuses on urban parks. In 2013 when the study was conducted, there were 219 parks and about 12,000 acres of total parkland in Kansas City, Missouri.


The purpose of this study is to examine the relationship between income and race/ethnicity and the availability, features, and quality of parks in Kansas City, Missouri. This study also evaluates the quality and aesthetic features of parks and recreation resources. Funding was provided by the Health Care Foundation of Greater Kansas City, and the Robert Woods Johnson Foundation.


  • Across all census tracts, there was an average of 1.22 parks per tract, 152.2 park acres per tract, 3.87 out of 14 facilities per park, 8.75 out of 23 positive amenities per park, 12.6 out of 37 total features per park, 0.57 quality concerns per park, and 2.47 aesthetic features per park.
  • Low-income tracts had significantly more parks than medium- or high-income tracts but had more quality concerns per park.
  • In low, medium, and high percent minority census tracts, no differences were found for the number of parks or total park acres per census tract. (Minority residents are defined in this study as non-White and Hispanic White persons).
  • The proportion of parks with playgrounds differed significantly across income groups, with low- and medium-income tracts having a lower proportion of parks with playgrounds than high-income tracts.
  • High minority tracts (where minority residents make up around 90% of the tract population) had a higher proportion of basketball courts than the medium or low minority tracts. They also had a lower proportion of trails in parks compared to the medium or low minority tracts. 
  • The proportion of parks with sidewalks was significantly higher in low- and high-income tracts than in medium-income tracts.


Parks were identified through GIS shape files provided by the Kansas City Parks and Recreation Department. The 165 parks identified were publicly accessible and usable for recreation. The American Community Survey (ACS), was used to gather data on race/ethnicity and income for the 174 census tracts within the city limits. Each tract was categorized into one of three income levels (low, medium, and high) using the median household income. Tracts were also categorized into low-, medium-, and high-percentage minority. Park features were analyzed using the Community Park Audit Tool, where features were split into facilities and amenities. To compare the census tracts with park features and availability, multivariate analyses of covariance were used, along with various controls including the land area of the tract and the total tract population.

Added to library on November 13, 2023