Illinois PRC - Chicago Parks and Communities Study


This was the applied public health prevention research project of the Illinois Prevention Research Center, 2014-2019.

This project focused on increasing access to and use of parks working with community stakeholders to conduct a comprehensive, rigorous evaluation of the impact of a Chicago Park District park-based renovation, and apply the study findings to ongoing park renovations by implementing a park coalition building intervention to increase local capacity and influence park-based utilization and physical activity.

The project takes advantage of a natural experiment (planned playground renovations by the Chicago Park District, the largest municipal park system in the U.S.) by implementing a two-phase study. Phase 1 (years 1-2) involves examining how differences in community engagement related to park programming, maintenance and safety, and variations in newly installed playground features differentially influence park-based utilization and physical activity post-renovations, and Phase 2 (years 3-5) involves developing, implementing and evaluating a park coalition building intervention, based on lessons learned in Phase 1, targeting renovated playgrounds not involved in the competitive application process, to increase park-based utilization and physical activity through enhanced programming, ongoing maintenance and safety.

This project will accomplish the following aims:

  1. Determine the impact (12 months) and sustainability (24 months) of playground renovations and community-led efforts on park programming, maintenance, safety, and overall change in park-based utilization and physical activity as measured by direct observation at baseline and post-renovation follow up, compared to a matched control group of not-yet-renovated parks.
  2. Combine results from Aim 1 with data from a formative assessment (i.e., focus groups with parent-child dyads and semi-structured interviews with coalition leaders) to develop a park coalition-building intervention in collaboration with local community members and organizations.
  3. Implement and evaluate the effectiveness of the park coalition-building intervention developed under Aim 2 on change in park programming, maintenance, and safety, and park-based utilization and physical activity post-playground renovation.
Funding Agency

National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Grant No. U48DP005010)

Principal Investigator 

Sandy J. Slater, PhD


Oksana Pugach, PhD

Shannon N. Zenk, PhD, MPH, RN

Start date
End date
PI of Parent Study
Lisa M. Powell, PhD

Related publications

Zenk SN, Tarlov E, Wing C, Slater S, Jones KK, Fitzgibbon M, Powell LM. Does the built environment influence the effectiveness of behavioral weight management interventions? Prev Med. 2019 Sep;126:105776. doi: 10.1016/j.ypmed.2019.105776.

Slater SJ, Tarlov E, Jones K, Matthews SA, Wing C, Zenk SN. Would increasing access to recreational places promote healthier weights and a healthier nation? Health Place. 2019 Mar;56:127-134. doi: 10.1016/j.healthplace.2019.01.013.