In keeping with my theme to highlight the work of women who write about urbanism and planning, I have a couple more awards to write about. This year’s Ritzdorf award winner is Lauren Garott from Kansas State University, for her master’s project on physical activity among African American women. According to ACSP’s website, the Ritzdorf award is a student award. I am a big fan of awards for students, unlike most awards, which are, as Sartre noted, always corrupting for the rest of us.
From the ACSP website, a description of the award:
This award recognizes superior scholarship reflecting concern with making communities better for women, people of color and/or the disadvantaged. Submissions may be based on student work submitted in the pursuit of any urban/city/community/town/regional planning degree, undergraduate or graduate, at an ACSP-member school.
In the United States, minorities are less physically active and in turn at higher risk for heart disease, diabetes and obesity. The purpose of my study is to examine the factors that influence physical activity in neighborhood parks and to answer: What aspects of park design and programming discourage physical activity participation in African American women? My goal is to identify barriers to physical activity and make recommendations for improving design and programming of a neighborhood park. The results of my research are relevant to the planning profession because planners can use public policy to combat inequality in the built environment.
Many studies have related recreation access to socioeconomic status, race, ethnicity, age, and gender. While African American women are not the only disadvantaged population when it comes to access to recreation, they do have a higher risk for obesity. In trying to answer why African American women have higher rates of obesity, some studies have found that while willingness to participate in physical activity does not differ in white and black women, duration of physical activity does.
My research employs a mixed methods approach to understand the barriers to physical activity experienced by African American women, in context of a neighborhood park. This study uses a physical assessment of James Mulligan Park and the surrounding neighborhood within Alexandria, Virginia. Following the physical assessment I piloted a survey to gather information on the barriers to physical activity. The pilot guided a final survey of seventeen participating African American women in the neighborhood.
I hypothesized that the perception of park safety will have an effect on the rate of physical activity in African American women. This hypothesis points to a general barrier for all women. Based on literature review, I also expected to find barriers unique to African American women.
The study concluded that African American women in this neighborhood share some barriers with all women and they also expressed some barriers unique to African American women. I found that personal barriers like “exercise tires me” was the most common, rather than perceptions of safety. In addition, I found culturally specific barriers, such as “exercising is not my cultural activity” and “I avoid exercise to protect my hairstyle.” Based on my analysis of the setting and surveys I make several recommendations for the park and neighborhood.
Errrbody needs to follow up on Garrott’s project with reading This Bridge Called My Back , which is an anthology of feminist theory writing from feminists of color.
Black women are tired, and they are tired for good reason, and if the rest of us would like to save money on health costs of obesity and this and that and yada…maybe it’s time to pay attention to the tiredness of black women and start there.