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


Parks are key community resources that provide numerous psychological, physiological, and social benefits. Most notably, parks can facilitate health cost savings (more users benefiting from physical activity, stress relief, etc.) that can contribute to the prevention of chronic conditions such as depression, obesity, diabetes, and cancers. However, maximizing the potential of community parks requires an accurate understanding and promotion of park resources.

Recently, Columbia Mayor Stephen Benjamin and other stakeholders announced a plan to revitalize multiple city parks and green spaces in order to encourage park use, active transport, and economic development in downtown Columbia. Because of the substantial implementation costs for major community modifications, as well as challenges related to the timing of data collection, opportunities to conduct rigorous evaluations using natural experiments are very uncommon. However, taking advantage of such opportunities – especially in South Carolina’s capital city – is important for advancing scientific knowledge about the impacts of such interventions and for providing evidence to support future investments to benefit community health. Therefore, the overall purpose of this project is to form the foundation of an innovative study to understand the impacts of modifying a major community resource on diverse individual and community physical, social, and mental health outcomes.


This project is funded by the Advanced Support for Innovative Research Excellence program at the University of South Carolina.


The Community Park Audit Tool (CPAT) was developed as a tool that would enable diverse community stakeholders to audit local parks for their potential to promote physical activity, with an emphasis on the tool being user-friendly and focusing on youth physical activity. The CPAT was originally developed and tested in summer and fall 2010 in Kansas City, Missouri. Development of the CPAT was supported by a grant from Active Living Research via the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

The Greenspace Renovation Project will include two phases:

Phase 1: Audit all 74 parks in the located within the city limits of Columbia, Forest Acres, West Columbia, and Cayce using the Community Park Audit Tool. The research team will leverage CPAT scores to assess differences in greenspace access and quality according to socioeconomic differences.

Phase 2: After the parks in the greater Columbia region have been audited, the next phase will be to select parks with matching CPAT scores to those that have renovation plans established. Park-based physical activity observations will be collected using SOPARC methodology in intervention and control parks. We will also collect community surveys for residents in the half-mile buffer surrounding the chosen greenspaces.

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