The Importance of Parks … Thinking Beyond the Literature

As I spend my weeks delving into environmental justice and parks research, I can sometimes get buried under piles of academic papers, a little lost in the direction of my research. I have to remind myself of what drew me to my research topic in the first place. I have had the opportunity to explore some of the most amazing places in the world, and I believe that access to natural spaces, even if they are simply urban parks, is beneficial to both individuals and society as a whole. This belief is not only supported by copious amounts of research that finds connections between park access and happy, healthier residents, but it also supported by the individual experiences of people everywhere.

While this semester I am mainly focused on developing a comprehensive literature review and beginning a GIS analysis of Oklahoma City, I aim to eventually ensure that my research not only captures the numbers behind park use but also the qualitative data that comes with truly understanding individuals’ experiences. Research into environmental justice must aim to include some aspect of participatory justice; the voices of the residents of Oklahoma City are just as important to my research as the census data and shape files I use to build my GIS analysis. I hope that in my subsequent phases of this project I can include interviews of park visitors in OKC to truly gauge how they interact with greenspace and what their needs are. If my eventual goals of proposing suggestions to the City of Oklahoma City are achieved, I will be sure to involve the residents of OKC in developing those suggestions as well as ensure I suggest guidelines for improved pathways to public participation in park planning decisions. My ultimate goal as a researcher is to improve people’s lives in some way by doing my work. I hope to do this by producing work that is sensitive to the intersection of hard numbers and data with the unquantifiable experiences of individuals.

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