Planning for Environmental Justice in an Urban National Park

How to cite this study

Byrne, J., Wolch, J. and Zhang, J. 2009. Planning for environmental justice in an urban national park. Journal of Environmental Planning and Management 52(3): 365-392.


The authors conducted a survey in Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area in Los Angeles to understand park accessibility and how socio-demographic characteristics affect individuals’ use of the park. They found that the average park user is white, male, middle-aged, has a college education, earns between $50,000-$75,000 per annum, and was born in the United States. They also found that people of color traveled farther to visit the park and were disproportionately represented among first-time visitors.


This study is relevant to leaders who want to increase the accessibility and participation of racial and ethnic minorities in urban national parks.The authors found that the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area functions as a predominately white recreational space, but the survey data did not provide enough information to discern why people of color don’t use the park. The authors suggested that qualitative survey techniques are needed to understand the thoughts, beliefs, and attitudes of individuals who do not use the park.


This study is located in Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area in Los Angeles. The park is co-managed by the National Park Service, the California Department of Parks and Recreation, and the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy.

Trail Type

The Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area is an urban park made up of public and private property with over 500 miles of trails for hiking, biking, horseback riding, climbing, and areas for camping. The park contains over 150,000 acres of peaks, canyons, beaches, salt marshes, and critically endangered oak-woodland vegetation.


The purpose of this study was to determine accessibility and usage in Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area from an environmental justice perspective. Since access to green space has been shown to be inequitably distributed in cities, authors attempted to identify how people of color and low-income urban residents use this urban national park. This study was funded by a grant from the Western National Parks Association.


  • The three dominant ethnic-racial groups in survey respondents were white (72%), Latinos (11.8%), and Asian (5.5%). African-Americans, Native Americans/Alaskan natives, and Native Hawaiians/Pacific Islanders were the least represented ethnic-racial groups in the sample. 
  • The three main ethnic-racial groups showed no statistically significant differences in attitudes toward the park, mode of travel, or frequency of visitation. However, people of color traveled farther than whites to visit the park and were more likely to be first-time visitors.
  • Using GIS analysis, the authors found that neighborhoods surrounding the park were predominantly white communities.
  • Whites earned higher incomes than visitors of color – though whites surveyed were significantly older than Latinos and Asians. 
  • 85.6% of the visitors surveyed possessed a college degree. Less than 1% did not have a high school diploma or GED. 
  • The six most prevalent activities in the park were: hiking (77.3%), sightseeing (55%) , mountain biking (26.3%), jogging (21.9%), and bird-watching and picnicking (16%).


In the summer of 2002 authors conducted a 28-question on-site survey of visitors in the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area for the National Park Service on two weekends: July 13-14 and July 21-22. Questions included socio-demographic information, visitors’ reason and length of use of the national park, barriers encountered in visitation, distance traveled, activities taken, and attitudes. They randomly selected potential respondents from the trails, offered a gift bag from REI as an incentive, and explained that participation was strictly voluntary. They also logged the total number of visitors to each of the 23 primary trailheads and 10 secondary neighborhood entrances. They had 912 completed surveys and used SPSS for chi-square and ANOVA analyses.

Added to library on November 7, 2023