Public Engagement Summary

Public Engagement Introduction

The Healthy Parks Plan for Travis, Bastrop, and Caldwell Counties began its Community Engagement in January 2018 and concluded in January 2019. The Healthy Park Plan kicked off its first phase of community workshops, which consisted of five workshop locations, June 18-25, 2018. The workshops were one part of a multi-faceted engagement effort for the Healthy Parks Plan. The other opportunities included tabling at community events (“Speak Outs”), in-person surveys (“Intercept Surveys”), interviews with local experts individually or in a “Focus Group”, online surveys, and phone polls.

Goals

The overarching goal of the Healthy Parks Plan public engagement was to provide an opportunity for the public to provide feedback on how parks influence the three keys to health:

  1. Physical health through exercising and physical activity;

  2. Community health through improving local air and water quality and mitigating climate impacts; and

  3. Mental health through connecting with both nature and other people in the community.

The following questions framed the Speak Outs, Intercept Surveys, and Focus Groups:

  1. What gets you (or your community) to go to the park, or what keeps you from the park?

  2. What activities or features of a park influence your health?

  3. What do you (or your community) do to maintain a healthy life and what are your biggest barriers to maintaining a healthy life?

Locations

The Speak Outs and Intercept Surveys locations were selected to complement and build on the ongoing engagement activities occurring throughout the project area. Venues were selected based on the following criteria:

  • Prioritize communities in the greatest need of health and park improvements, including but not limited to underserved and/or minority populations,

  • Established community events with strong community ties, and

  • Staffing abilities and scheduling conflicts.

Speak Outs

Tabling at existing community events has successfully increased public participation because the project is going to where the people are, rather than asking the community to come to the project. Events targeted include farmers markets, family events held in parks, holiday celebrations, and events hosted by the project’s partnerships.

After a successful first phase of Speak Outs in the fall of 2018, the project increased the number of speak outs and reduced the number of Public Meetings, which had low attendance.

Phase 1 gathered input and insight from participants about their physical and non-physical barriers within parks. Participants were asked to self-determine park concerns and divide their answers into three categories: quality of the park, amenities within the park, or safety of the park. Participants were also asked about how they are physically active, and how often they do these activities within parks.

Phase 1: May-September 2018

Table 1: Completed Speak Outs Phase 1 and Information

What We Heard

Participants identified cleanliness and maintenance as the main concerns related to park quality. Fitness and play equipment were the most highly requested park amenities. Examples include: Nature play materials, playgrounds, skateparks, stationary bikes, and adult exercising equipment. Most participants noted that the perception of safety in their local parks deter them from visiting the parks frequently, in the evenings, or alone.

Participants currently participate in sports and utilize trail networks. Meanwhile, participants desired additional recreational programming, with pools and shade highly requested. Answers were summarized below:

“What would you like to see improved in your park”

  • Water Activity 10%

  • Design Feature/Equipment 20%

  • Family fun/programming 17% (examples: neighborhood movies, events, picnics, fitness classes, youth and adult organized sports)

  • Trail network/access 16%

  • Signs 5%

  • Shade 8%

  • Lighting/Safety 8%

  • Ecology 7%

  • Maintenance 8%

“What are the activities you like to do in parks?” (Now)

  • Water Activity 14%

  • Design feature/Equipment 9%

  • Family Fun/Programming 39%

  • Trail Network/Access 33%

  • Food Fun 5%

“What are the activities you wish you could do in parks?” (Future)

  • Water Activity 33%

  • Design feature/Equipment 23%

  • Family Fun/Programming 32%

  • Trail Network/Access 12%

  • Food Fun 0%

PHASE 2: October 2018 -January 2019

After gathering valuable feedback from Phase 1 of the Speak Outs, Phase 2 shifted its outreach and feedback goals to strengthen the Healthy Parks Plan public engagement. Goals included:

  • Target the gaps in diversity from Phase 1 events:

  • Unincorporated areas in the counties,

  • Asian American groups

  • Lower income groups

  • Gather demographic data to differentiate between recreation and fitness preferences.

Phase 1 summarized participants’ feedback of what is desired to make a successful park into six top categories, listed below. Phase 1’s top six categories were used in structuring the questions in Phase 2. The Phase 2 activity asked participants to vote on their prefered five park amenities and activities out of the six options. Their voting slips also included an opportunity to provide demographic and geographic information, such as age, race, hometown zip code, and favorite park.

  1. Organized Events

  2. Exercise Class or Equipment

  3. Playground or Playscapes

  4. Trails

  5. Pools and Splashpads

  6. Natural Water Recreation

What We Heard

Responses were sorted based on their zip code, and whether their hometown zip code fell within the following three categories: Rural, Mid-size, and Urban. Theses categories were based on the size of the city associated with the provided zip code. For this analysis, an entry was categorized as ‘rural’ if the city’s population fell below 10,000 residents. ‘Mid-size’ cities contain a population between 10,000 and 100,000. Lastly, ‘urban’ communities were those with populations greater than 100,000. There were numerous participants who chose not to disclose their zip code, which were not counted in the following summary.

Table 2: Completed Speak Outs Phase 2 and Information

Rural participants had the highest percent of votes in “Pools and Splashpads” (32.4%). “Trails” received the highest percentage of votes for participants from urban communities  (26.7%). For mid-size community participants, “Trails” received the most votes, however, only one vote higher than “Pools and Splashpads”, with both categories encompassing roughly 25% of the votes.

Regardless of community size or category, “Exercise Class or Equipment” received the least amount of votes, with “Organized Events” receiving second lowest amount of votes for all categories. “Exercise Class or Equipment” was previously ranked high in Phase 1. This change in ranking may be due to the change in outreach locations which prioritized rural and smaller towns. “Pools and Splashpads”, “Trails”, and “Natural Water Recreation” received the most votes for all city size categories. Table 3 summarizes the findings.

Table 3: Voting Results

Intercept Surveys

Short preliminary surveys were conducted at 10 locations across the three-county project boundary. These informal, conversational 5-minute surveys asked participants about barriers to accessing and using local parks and trails. Locations, shown in Table 4, were chosen to fulfill the specific goals of the Intercept Surveys, which included:

  1. Reach immigrant and rural communities

  2. Reach those who likely will not attend community workshops

  3. Keep the questions open-ended, and provide a venue for community members to share their thoughts and emotions in a more conversational format.

The following questions helped guide the interviewer’s conversation:

  1. What is your favorite park and why?

  2. What gets you to go to the park?

    • What keeps you from going to the park?

  3. What would you find in a healthy park?

    • What do you need in a park to encourage you to be more active?

  4. What do you do to maintain a healthy life?

    • What are your biggest barriers to maintaining a healthy life?

  5. What would help you be healthier?

  6. What makes a park feel like YOUR park?

  7. Demographics (optional) and Zip code

Table 4: Completed Intercept Surveys and Information


What We Heard

  • Interviewees predominantly use parks for children’s recreation and after-school sports. Adult fitness is done elsewhere, outside of parks, or not at all.

    • Many adults interviewed do not have the luxury to exercise. Many adults walk to work or work in industries involving physical labor. At the end of the workday, many go straight home due to fatigue and lack of time.

    • Many noted the long distance to the closest park and that only having one car in the household deters families from visiting parks on a normal basis.

  • Many would like to see more trails and organized community events, like entertainment or workout classes. Many utilize their existing rural parks for grilling and river activities, but not for exercising.

    • There were strong opinions for or against exercise stations, workout classes, and organized sports activities, but everyone was in agreement that equipment and classes’ proximity to children areas and being in an active location is ideal. Reasons against exercising in parks include: safety concerns, needing childcare, inadequate or lacking bathrooms and water fountains, and exercise equipment maintenance.

  • Heat is a major deterrent for prolonged activities in the park. Many mentioned the need for enhancements, such as shade and water stations.

  • Empty parks deter participants from visiting their local parks as well. Isolation and safety were of concern.

  • Many were not familiar with the health benefits of park use. Most individuals only viewed parks as a source of entertainment for their children.

  • When asked about access to parks and outdoor amenities, a few noted that the lack of wayfinding creates confusion.Some also noted that the lack of signage can lead to uncertainty regarding whether or not amenities are available to the public. An example of this is whether or not the public can use school yards after hours.

  • The majority interviewed (60%) were adults alone or with children. About 13% of interviewees were of elderly age, and about 26% were children and teenagers.

Focus Groups

Comprised of local experts and stakeholders, the Focus Groups assisted the Healthy Parks Plan process, providing local knowledge, identifying opportunities to collaborate, and presenting barriers that could impact the plan or their organization’s individual efforts. Four major groups were identified by the Steering Committee as subject matter exports that would benefit the Healthy Parks Plan:

  1. Cultural & Arts Divisions and Chamber of Commerces that offer programming and initiatives to impact economic development and cultural development.

  2. Faith Based and non-profit organizations that represent underserved communities through initiatives and events.

  3. Neighborhood coalitions and housing groups that advocate for parks and open spaces to improve their community.

  4. Real Estate experts and developers that understand the needs for and lack of open space amenities.

The following were base questions asked at each focus group, with additional questions targeting the participant’s expertise.

  1. What programs do your organizations offer to improve the health of your community?

  2. Are there gaps in what you need to fulfill your needs around your health related programs?

  3. Do you see your organization having a role in fulfilling the Healthy Parks Plan?

  4. Do you see the Healthy Parks Plan benefiting your organization?

What We Heard

The following provides a summary of each focus group. Table 5 details each focus groups’ dates and attendees. A detailed list of invited organization can be found in the Appendix.

Travis County Cultural & Arts Divisions; Chamber of Commerce

  • Funding and more widespread and consistent community involvement identified as significant barrier to incorporating health into their programs

  • Partnerships with other community organizations could assist with programming limitations

Bastrop County Cultural & Arts Divisions; Chamber of Commerce

  • Rural parks are highly valued aspects in communities with large events bringing in thousands

  • Many rural parks have crucial need for short-term improvements such as: sidewalks, bike racks, permanent restrooms, and consistent programming

  • Additionally, there is a desire for long-term investments such as: water features, public art, amenities for community members of all ages

    • Local eagerness to promote more public art in parks and downtown with murals, functional art, and art in the park programming

  • A lack of, or inconsistent funding has made it difficult to maintain partnerships and valuable connections with community members

  • Many areas share a goal of creating better access for all community members, but currently lack accessibility or basic amenities that prevent that (paved trails, access to regional/county parks by transit)

  • There are existing programs that promote and aim to improve health in the community but lack continuity. Funding to maintain programs consistently has been problematic, as well as accessibility providing limitations to feasibility of outdoor excursion type events

  • Recognition that short-term accessibility needs must be addressed first, and priority in connecting with other community entities to assist with developing programming in parks

Bastrop County Neighborhood & Housing Focus Group

  • Many county parks need attention and resources but provide great opportunities (riverfront views and access, community events, ect), however need to be cognizant of equity and sustainability in investment in parks

  • Funding is currently a barrier to maintaining and improving parks, and communities and county would like to find creative ways to provide funding for parks

  • Desire to see more collaborations between parks and health programming and initiatives. Partnering with schools and other organizations to get involved in park planning and programming can be helpful. Engaging private sector and business community in coordinating events can help offset operating costs.

  • There is a sense of urgency for city/county to capture available land now for future park development for fear of losing it to new type of development

    • Proposed idea to require developers to have dedicated land for parks

  • Strong desires to ensure present and future parks are accessible for all, with a growing need for multigenerational access and benefits in every park including  amenities and programming offered

Caldwell County Faith Based Organizations

  • There is a great need for increased park programming, and education around healthy living and eating

  • Currently the area has a community garden on city land, benefiting both the gardeners with access to physical activity, stress relief, and community bonding as well as the greater community by providing healthy food options for local food bank

  • Funding is biggest limitation from fulfilling needs or organizations to expand health programming

    • Opportunity to connect community garden to senior citizen housing, promote awareness and education to more community members

  • Lockhart and Luling families/schools/programs are traveling to San Marcos to access the playscape and amenities lacking in their own communities

Travis County Real Estate/Developers

  • Decisions made about  public land and parks is overall based on yield and feasibility

    • Value of a park is dictated by amenities provided

    • Cities and developers must consider maintenance cost, walkability, and overall access

  • There is currently no system to evaluate available land based on these considerations

  • No park dedication credit given for floodplain, even though parks could exist in floodplain

Summary

Overall participants of the various focus groups shared a mutual desire to improve and expand park infrastructure in their respective communities. It was consistently felt that parks provide an opportunity for community members and organizations to connect in a public space through programming, events, and simply accessing any amenities the space has to offer. Many shared similar concerns or limitations regarding parks and programming in their communities. Accessibility of parks and their amenities was frequently mentioned, with a desire to improve access to parks in more rural communities, as well as provide basic amenities such as paved paths and bike racks to encourage more use by community members. Every group mentioned funding as a significant barrier to maintaining parks or providing programming in parks. Specifically in regards to programming, many respondents mentioned a desire for improved partnerships with other community entities.

Table 5: Completed Focus Groups and Information

Appendix

Focus Group list of organizations invited:

Bastrop County: Cultural & Arts Divisions; Chamber of Commerce

  • Bastrop Chamber of Commerce

  • Smithville Chamber of Commerce

  • Elgin Chamber of Commerce

  • Bastrop Art in Public Places (BAPP)

  • Elgin Main Street

  • Elgin Arts Association

  • Bastrop County Tourism Office

Travis County: Cultural & Arts Divisions; Chamber of Commerce

  • Austin Chamber of Commerce

  • Pflugerville Chamber of Commerce

  • Manor Chamber of Commerce

  • Pflugerville Community Development Corporation (PCDC) Board

  • Austin Art in Public Places

  • COA Economic Development Dept

  • Six Square

  • The Contemporary

  • Preservation Austin

  • African American Cultural and Heritage Facility manager

  • Waller Creek

  • Mexican American Archivist, Austin History Center

Caldwell County: Faith based and non-profit groups

  • Lockhart Ministerial Alliance

  • Luling Area Ministerial Alliance

  • Caldwell County Texas Salvation Army

  • Caldwell County Christian Ministries

  • Community Action of Central Texas

  • Loaves and Fishes Outreach Ministry

Bastrop County: Faith based groups

  • In The Streets-Hands Up High Ministry

  • Bastrop County Christian Homeschoolers

  • Bastrop Christian Ministerial Alliance

  • Bastrop County: Housing and Neighborhoods

  • Bastrop Community Senior Center

  • Bastrop Housing Authority

  • Planning and Development

  • Smithville Housing Authority

  • Austin Habitat for Humanity

  • Austin Community Design and Development Center

  • City of Smithville

  • Guadalupe CDC

  • COA NHCD

  • Anti Displacement task force

Travis County: Real Estate & Developers

  • Evolve Austin

  • Turner Residential

  • Home Builders Association of Greater Austin

  • Urban Land Institute

  • Momark Development

  • Thrower Design

  • Drenner Group

  • Husch Blackwell

Katie Coyne