A Qualitative Analysis on Omaha Parks and Greenery

 Perez M., Poe G., Wagman J., Kane G., Vera-Esquivel C.

    This research has studied the connections between the use of leisure time within parks and how they affect mental health in the general population of Omaha. Throughout this study, there will be a description of the methods used, their findings, and the analysis the study found from the findings. This research took place across the entirety of Omaha and takes into account every park within each region from North Omaha to South Omaha and East Omaha to West Omaha, and everywhere in between.

 Methodology

Data was collected using Google Maps. Omaha was sectioned into eight regions: North, North-West, Central, South-Central, North-Central, South, East, and West Omaha. Google Maps provided borders upon searching the region in Omaha (ex: North Omaha). Parks were defined as public or private green space. Google Maps had a photographic record for all Omaha parks which provided a street and an aerial view.

A secondary approach to data collection was in person observations for novel and live information. At least one park was visited in North, Northwest, Central, South, South-Central, East, and West Omaha. In each of the parks, observations encompassed playgrounds, swimming pools, soccer fields, and small ponds. The study also observed how well the parks are maintained and at what times of the day do people usually go to the parks.

From these findings, individual memos were created and shared with all group members to understand the findings for each region. Themes were identified from the shared information and a table was created containing findings in each theme for all Omaha regions and an additional table with interpretations of the data.

Findings

In this study, five common themes were found. One theme was overall parks maintenance. Parks were unattended to were likely to have a low visitor rate. Smaller parks that had less maintenance than larger ones, except for the west region where small parks were clean.

Another theme observed in all parks was equipment type present. All parks had in place soccer, football, baseball fields, or trail walking/running trails. Playground sets were plentiful across all Omaha regions studied. Another common trait of all parks were open fields free of any equipment.  Bodies of water – such as ponds and creeks – were a feature of large parks; no small parks were observed with such bodies of water not small. Golf courses increased in quantity as the distance increased from downtown Omaha, in particular towards west Omaha. Large parks with multi-function complexes were a feature of the South Omaha region.

 

Race White Asian Black Hawaiian Latino Native Other
Rate of Change 450.5 1466 130 17.25 1042.75 -3.75 392

Ethnicity was identified as another theme. Omaha is a diverse city (Figure 1) as a whole, however, some regions hold highly concentrated population relative to other regions. In the parks we see that Latinos and Whites predominantly populate parks in the South. We saw North Omaha parks predominantly populated by Blacks. Also, we say parks in North Central and the Western regions were mostly Caucasian and then Black. The Central region parks were highly more diverse with no single race standing out from the rest and had the most diverse ethnic/racial composition.

Another theme observed was that of the age within the park attendants. Children made up most of the population in South and South-Central regions. In comparison to private or residential greenery (golf courses and trails) where adults attendants and figuresforpaperchild chaperones predominated. It was noted that some parks appeared to be tailored to older teens and adults as these provided longer trails and higher quality sports complexes, although no pattern were evident. The smaller of the public parks had simple playgrounds and swing sets for children and had high attendance. Children-oriented small public parks were often located in residential/housing areas. The elderly activity was mostly observed in parks with ponds/creeks.

Green spaces themselves have been attributed to multiple psychological and physical benefits to those exposed to them. As a result, cleanliness became one of the themes and was often accentuated in the course of this study. Parks had a few discarded items scattered about the grounds. Larger parks and those with ponds showed the lightest level of littering. Most parks showed light pollution and littering throughout the land with only a few having large amounts of scattered trash.

Analysis

Further examination of the Omaha metro area parks shared the following themes: Maintenance, equipment, race, age, cleanliness. As such, the study had reached a conclusion into what each one means when regarding mental health.

Theme 1 Maintenance: Maintenance in all parks throughout the regions of the city need attended to simply because of the wear and tear throughout the years each park or green land.  That is why the city has employees to attend to the parks, because a maintained park brings the mental stage to a being of wanting to visit that park. Appearance of a land draws attention to visitors and curious onlookers. One wouldn’t visit a park if the vegetation was unattended by the city parks department for years. They do have schedules when they attend to parks, but in some instances when the city doesn’t have enough funding to keep a park maintained to the public, visitors find a new park attraction. The schedules that the parks keep and the upkeep itself is good awareness to use it and more awareness one has in an activity the more likely they are to use it (Romero, 2015). The appearance of a public or private green space draws the attention when visitors are looking to get their recreation and leisure actions attended to. Park appearance helps the attendees relax and be calmed thus lessening any anxiety or stress. There is a website where you can report parks problems in the city because attendees want to feel relaxed at the park not stressed that a creepy person is at the same park as children taking a snooze on the slide. The maintenance of our parks needs to be kept up more by the city. That website is, cityofomaha.org/report-a-park-problem. The environment around you shapes your behavior and thoughts. That is why the environment of the parks in kept in order. (Brymer and Davids, 2014).

 Theme 2 Equipment: Boredom is often an unsung threat to mental health as it can lead to the development of many problems. One such problem is depression, which in turn can lead to suicides as one stuedy showed (Friedman and Leon, 2007). Many things can be done to stave off boredom such as or sports, however, one of the study’s focus is on the available equipment parks have at hand. The availability of equipment plays an important role in staving off boredom as it allows people to use their leisure time to interact with others and experience exercise (Oh, Caldwell, and Oh, 2001). In our study we found that all regions had a high number of green spaces and parks – almost all were equipped with walking/biking trails, playgrounds, basketball/baseball fields, and large empty grassy spaces. The accessibility of these parks to people may help in reducing boredom which facilitates engagement of generally beloved sports such as basketball or soccer which stave off boredom in people’s leisure time or simple park attendance. This has the potential aiding in improving a person state of mental health and reduce their anxiety or depression associated with boredom (Iso-Ahola, Weissinger, 1987).

Theme 3 Race:  Race in Omaha is important given the diverse population living here (DATA USA: Omaha, NE, 2016). When examining the parks, it was obvious that certain racial groups tended to concentrate in certain parts of Omaha. This same pattern was observed in the parks. An example of this is the parks in South Omaha tended to be used by people of Hispanic origin and Caucasians. Within the parks, activity seemed neutral and friendly with no segregation visible. This gave the sense of belonging and safety which helps reduce anxiety and nervousness and allows for a better state of mind. Especially considering that in certain areas of Omaha, such as North and South Omaha, that have high crime rates which only add problems to internal perception of safety and thus mental health (Location Inc.)

Theme 4 Age: The study found that the parks/ outdoor recreational activities in Omaha cover a target audience of all ages. Parks with playground equipment pander to a lower age, usually young children. Many of these parks have trails or sports equipment which focus on the more casual activist. Elderly attendants were more often seen in pairs using trails for walking or jogging compared to younger adults performing the same activities. This difference could be due to the type of motivators both groups use when choosing their leisure activities as elderly >65 years of age are motivated by relationships whereas younger adults are motivated by achieving competency and meeting social expectations (Beggs, 2014). For adults Omaha has many private golf clubs and public greenery for their use. Omaha has many various types of outdoor activity for an all-inclusive age range.

These findings relate to a study by Repke et al. (2018) in that it shows how Omaha has well equipped its city with nature enrichment areas for the consumption of its people. This access is something which all residents of Omaha no matter the age have at their disposal. The paper states that an increase of nature exposure has beneficial consequences of less stress, depression, anxiety and overall health benefits which shows the residents of Omaha, no matter the age, can benefit from this effect.

Being outside also promotes physical activity and socializing which are two things able help mental health.  Physical activity and a social lifestyle can de-stress a person and decrease chances for depression (VanKim and Nelson, 2013). The fact that all ages are able to access this outdoor nature and promotion of healthy lifestyle with relative equal and easy access is a good showing for the city of Omaha.

Theme 5 Cleanliness:  Some parks in Omaha show a lacking in cleanliness but the majority are clean. A clean environment that includes clean air, water, land and energy, is essential for human existence, conducting business and creating wealth (Cleaning and the Environment).There are some places that need to be more sanitary such as public park restrooms because of the smells and the trash on the ground. But most parks in Omaha showed light pollution, only a few had large amounts of scattered trash such as Hanscom Park. People

usually like to go to the parks to get some fresh air, to be physically active, and to spend time with their family. Social anxiety disorder is the fourth most common mental disorder with an estimated lifetime prevalence of 12.1% (Kessler et al., 2005). Spending time at the parks could help with mental health and anxiety. As such, cleanliness plays the role of allowing the mind to relax and destress as the environment around is in a state of an organized and clean setting.

 

Conclusion:

In conclusion, parks are beneficial places as they provide aid for mental health. However, everything must be taken into account from the state of cleanliness to the equipment available in order to provide such aid. All parks offer help in some manner to all who attend. As such, each must be maintained, kept clean, and sanitary and only then can parks help locals relax and de-stress physically and mentally.

Mental health is a topic that is overlooked. Mental health is an issue around the world, and finding ways to improve diagnostics of it are to be further researched.

The therapeutic effects of parks on our mental health need further research as well. There is evidence that natural/green spaces calm a person and positively influence people’s lifestyle choices. Future research should examine the long-term effects of parks and green spaces located in residential areas and the people who live around them.

 

References and Bibliography          

Brent Beggs, Tracy Kleparski, Daniel Elkins & Amy Hurd (2014) Leisure Motivation of Older Adults in Relation to Other Adult Life Stages, Activities, Adaptation & Aging, 38:3, 175-187, DOI: 10.1080/01924788.2014.935910

Brymer, E., & Davids, K. (2014). Experiential learning as a constraint-led process: an ecological dynamics perspective.  Journal of Adventure Education & Outdoor Learning. 14:2, 103-117. DOI: 10.1080/14729679.2013.789353

 

Dryman, M. T., Gardner, S., Weeks, J. W., & Heimberg, R. G. (2016). Social anxiety disorder and quality of life: How fears of negative and positive evaluation relate to specific domains of life satisfaction. Journal of Anxiety Disorders, 38, 1–8. https://doi-org.leo.lib.unomaha.edu/10.1016/j.janxdis.2015.12.003 (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site.

Friedman, R.A. & Leon, A.C. (2007). NEJM — Expanding the Black Box — Depression, Antidepressants, and the Risk of Suicide. New England Journal of Medicine, 356:2343-2346.

Iso-Ahola, S., & Weissinger, E. (1987).

Leisure and boredom. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 5(3), 356-364. doi:http://dx.doi.org.leo.lib.unomaha.edu/10.1521/jscp.1987.5.3.356

Oh Sae-Sook., Caldwell L. L., Oh Sei-Yi. (2001). An Examination of Leisure Constraints, Participation in Creative Activities and Hobbies and Leisure Boredom in a Sample of Korean Adults. World Leisure Journal. 43:2, 30-38 DOI: 10.1080/04419057.2001.9674228

Omaha, NE Crime Analysis https://www.neighborhoodscout.com/ne/omaha/crime

Michael D. Berry, Ph.D., was chairman of the Science Advisory Council for the Cleaning Industry Research Institute (CIRI) in 2006. The information contained in this article was extracted from Dr. Berry’s papers and presentations at CIRI’s 2007 Cleaning Science Conference and Symposium. His entire paper and Power Point presentation, as well as those of other symposium presenters, are available at www.ciri-research.org.

Repke, M. A., Berry, M. S., IIIConway, L. G., Metcalf, A., Hensen, R. M., & Phelan, C. (2018).

How does nature exposure make people healthier?: Evidence for the role of impulsivity and expanded space perception. PLoS ONE, 13(8), 1–20.  https://doi-org.leo.lib.unomaha.edu/10.1371/journal.pone.0202246 (GK)

Romero, Z. (2015). The Current Level of Awareness of the Benefits of Physical Activity, HealthyNutrition, and Stress Management. International Journal of Health, Wellness & Society, 5(4), 87–96. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com.leo.lib.unomaha.edu/login.aspx?direct=true&db=a9h&AN=116711680&site=ehost-live&scope=site (GK)

VanKim, N. A., & Nelson, T. F. (2013). Vigorous Physical Activity, Mental Health, Perceived

Stress, and Socializing Among College Students. American Journal of Health Promotion, 28(1), 7–15. https://doi.org/10.4278/ajhp.111101-QUAN-395 (GK)