Natural experiment to assess health impacts of improved greenspace

Using the Community Park Audit Tool to assess pre-renovation access to quality greenspace in Columbia, SC


There are currently plans to revitalize many parks and greenspaces in the region surrounding Columbia, SC. Renovating and improving these parks is expected to encourage park usage, promote active transportation, facilitate economic development, and improve neighborhood social cohesion. Opportunities to conduct evaluations using natural experiments are uncommon due to the cost of implementing major community modifications (e.g., park renovations) and challenges related to timing of data collection. However, it is important to advance knowledge on the impact of these interventions (park renovations) and provide evidence to support future investments. In this study, a quasi-experimental approach is used to evaluate the impacts of a large-scale intervention like park renovations on physical activity and health outcomes.


Advanced Support for Innovative Research Excellence program at the University of South Carolina


This project will use Community Park Audit Tool (CPAT) data collected during the Park Equity Project to find appropriate match parks for those with established renovation plans. Park-based physical activity levels will beobserved and recorded for each of the parks using the System for Observing Play and Recreation in Communities (SOPARC). SOPARC has shown reliability and validity in past studies. Each park will be divided into target areas. The observers will rotate through these areas, conducting systematic momentary scans of park users. While scanning, information on age, gender, race/ethnicity, and intensity level (sedentary, walking, vigorous) will be recorded for each park user. These observations are done for 8 hours per day and will be staggered in order to cover all daylight hours (7 am to 8 pm). The observations will be completed with seven days per park over a one-month time period. Two intervention parks in Columbia will used for the study: Finlay Park and Virginia Pack Park. MLK Jr. Park will serve as a control site for comparison to Finlay Park; a control park for Virginia Pack Park will be identified before SOPARC audits begin.

Future Directions

After the renovations are complete, pre- and post- renovation data will be used to run multilevel regression analyses to assess the impact of park changes on various health (e.g., physical activity, stress) and social (e.g., safety, social cohesion) outcomes.

For more information about the community park audit tool please see this brief description and feel free to contact us about the Columbia Greenspace Evaluation project:

Andrew Kaczynski, PhD
University of South Carolina

Shirelle Hallum, MPH
University of South Carolina

Marilyn Wende, MSPH
University of South Carolina