Bike-Sharing for all in NYC

Bike-sharing programs have increased in popularity across the United States in recent years. The initiative is especially robust here in New York City. In 2013, NYC launched Citi Bike, where locals and tourists can rent bikes at stations throughout the city, and return them to any other location for their convenience. The bikes can be used for any purpose – from commuting, to a fun adventure with friends, or simply to tour and take in the sights of the city. Citi Bike currently hosts 10,000 bikes across 600 stations, and is available in 55 NYC neighborhoods.

Citi Bike provides a great outlet for exercise, getting outdoors, and engaging with one’s community and fellow residents. Although this may sound like a win-win for all, Citi Bike stations are unevenly distributed across NYC neighborhoods, as most of these stations are located in wealthier areas. Communities with low-income and minority residents are at a disadvantage by not having access to the potential health and social benefits Citi Bike offers. A recent study in Boston found that 43% of its’ White residents lived near a bike-sharing station, compared with only 7% of its’ Black residents.

A few years ago, Citi Bike expanded to Bedford-Stuyvesant in Brooklyn. Bed-Stuy is largely composed of minority races, and has high rates of poverty and unemployment, as well as diseases such as obesity and diabetes. Although residents were initially opposed to the introduction of the program, results have showed that Citi Bike use more than doubled in Bed-Stuy, and has increased in surrounding lower-income neighborhoods as well.

David Sandman, the President and CEO of the New York State Health Foundation, saw this as a great opportunity for lower-income NYC neighborhoods, and reached out to City Bike to discuss expanding their program into other similar areas. The two organizations have since worked together to assess the challenges and opportunities surrounding implementing bike-sharing in these neighborhoods. They found that although the New York City Housing Authority offers an almost 70% discount on bike memberships ($5 versus the standard $15), there were very low participation rates and low awareness, with 80% of residents in one neighborhood completely unaware of the opportunity.

To increase use among residents, local organizations and community leaders are being encouraged to reach out to their neighbors and market the Citi Bike opportunity, both through face-to-face interactions, and banners and other marketing tools. Community engagement is a key tactic to ensure that the physical and mental health benefits Citi Bike provides is accessed by residents across New York City, especially in those often-disadvantaged communities who need it the most. At PARCS, we know many of our participants are leaders in their communities, who advocate for the well-being of their neighbors. To find out if there’s a station near you, check out the Citi Bike map here. Then get out there, and get bike-sharing!



Celebrating the ‘Power of Play’ in July!

Parks and Recreation agencies provide vital support for creating and sustaining active communities across the United States. In New York City, Parks Department properties promote physical activity, community engagement, and cultural awareness. Over 5,000 Parks sites cover 14% of New York City, and range from athletic fields and playgrounds, to nature centers and beaches, to public monuments and historic museums. The department also hosts a variety of fun, free events for residents of all ages. Additionally, they serve as an invaluable member of the PARCS Study, as their teamwork and insight allow us to engage with community residents across the city and improve public spaces.

To celebrate all the department does for its’ communities and bring awareness to their services, July has been dubbed “National Park and Recreation Month.” Each year has a distinct theme, and 2017 is focused on the “Power of Play.” Play and physical activity promote both physical and mental health, and can offer an opportunity to get in touch with both community members and the outdoor environment. During July, the Parks Department is encouraging residents to document and share why play and parks are important to them.

To participate, simply post your pictures and stories on social media, using the hashtag “#PlayOnJuly.” You can also share the infographic, here, to increase awareness on the importance of play in one’s life.

For more information on the “Power of Play,” visit the National Recreation and Parks Association website here. Now, time to go outside and play!


Exploring the Relationship Between Child Movement and BMI

Since its commencement, PARCS has been focusing on the relationship between physical and overall wellbeing and built environment among adults. This spring, we expanded our focus and began working with children as well, conducting similar measures on activity and adding a component to track sleep, to gain a more comprehensive view of movement across a full 24-hour period. A recent study published by Pennington Biomedical Research Center explored this 24-hour cycle as well, by analyzing the relationships between physical activity and amount of sleep with BMI to gauge the relationship between overall daily movement and weight.

The Pennington Study included a sample of 357 White and African American children aged 5-18 from Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Measurements were taken on physical activity, amount of TV viewing, and sleep duration via questionnaires. Height and weight were also measured to calculate participants’ BMIs. Activity levels were compared against current 24-hour movement guidelines for physical activity, sedentary behavior, and sleep.

Source: NEA Healthy Futures










This study provided a few interesting results. Researchers found that meeting each of these guidelines was significantly associated with lower body fat mass and BMI. Additionally, the more guidelines that were met, the greater these decreases in body mass were. For children who reached guidelines of all three measures, their odds were 89% lower than those who met none of the guidelines. The odds were 40% and 24% for children who reached two or just one of these guidelines, respectively.

This led the researchers to conclude that physical activity is not the only contributor to achieving a lower BMI, and that sedentary time and quality of sleep are also important measures to focus on. They wrote: “This work suggests that interventions that target multiple lifestyle behaviours may have a potent effect on levels obesity and overweight in children.”

Although BMI is not a specific outcome of interest for the PARCS study, these findings are still important and relevant to us. This study showed that increased physical activity and amount of sleep lead to improved health outcomes. Frequency of physical activity typically increases when children have access to safe, clean outdoor spaces. By building and sustaining robust outdoor spaces, we can positively impact levels of obesity and overweight in children.

PARCS is on Facebook!

The team at PARCS greatly values insights from our participants and their communities. In order to deepen and continue conversation and engagement outside of our direct work, we are launching a platform on Facebook to speak directly to our audience. We aim to learn through their feedback, as well as share our message and communicate the value of “purpose-built communities” that we strive to support. See below for our entry post, and head over to our new page for more updates!


At PARCS, we are dedicated to understanding the relationship between a community’s built environment and resident health. Years of research have shown connections between environmental characteristics and resources, and residents’ physical and mental well-being. We seek to understand connection this by working directly with residents in communities across all five New York City boroughs, and gaining insights into their opinions and attitudes on their surrounding environment, as well as their physical activity and use of the space. Our goals in this work is to determine what makes a beneficial environment, and how these insights can be translated into developing purpose-built communities.

A purpose-built community is one where all community members work together to accomplish a shared goal that will better the lives of individuals within that area. There are four necessary components of a purpose-built community, including:


  • Collective efficacy: the overarching attitude and belief that by working together, people can make a positive difference.
  • Development and use of available assets: this includes tangible assets such as financial and facility resources, and intangible assets, including shared values and beliefs.
  • Agreed-upon process: these processes will create an order and structured path toward achieving the groups’ goals, and determine which members are responsible for which tasks.
  • Defining a shared goal that matters to all community members: this is an extremely important element, as a purpose-built community is most impactful if it’s efforts benefit the neighborhood as a whole.


We would like this page to serve as both a resource with information on how to promote purpose-built communities, and as a forum for readers to share their experiences, ask questions, and post suggestions. We hope that you will benefit from the postings and dialogue on this page. Just as with purpose-built communities, we will all benefit from sharing our thoughts and goals with one another!

-PARCS Study Team

Improving Social Equity Through Urban Design

Poorly thought-out urban design is not only a detriment to the health of residents, as we have discussed in-depth on this blog, but it is also a key driver of social inequity in cities. One organization attempting to reverse this trend is the Strong, Prosperous, and Resilient Communities Challenge, or SPARCC. The coalition has committed to spending $90 million over the next three years to help communities in the San Francisco Bay Area, Los Angeles, Denver, Chicago, Memphis, and Atlanta address the urban design factors that cause social and health inequalities.

SPARCC states that the first step toward achieving their mission is increasing collaboration across public and private sectors, and community members. By working with a range of health organizations, SPARCC will have access to different knowledge, resources, and strategies. Community engagement will lead to key insights about the communities’ beliefs, values, and needs, that will inform the most appropriate and impactful interventions. To build these networks, SPARCC starts by identifying agencies and organizations in their target communities and reaching out to form partnerships. By increasing their size and domain, SPARCC and their partners have a greater chance of influencing policymakers and city planners.

An example of SPARCC’s initiatives is their collaboration with the Transportation Alliance in Atlanta, Georgia. Atlanta currently ranks second in the United States for income inequality. A key driver of this is the amount of annual income that goes toward transportation, as only 3.4% of jobs in the city are accessible by a 45-minute or less commute. SPARCC is working with the Transportation Alliance to develop new affordable housing, clinics near train stations, and building new transit lines in areas with low access.

Atlanta Photo 2

Photo: courtesy SPARCC

SPARCC has large goals for transforming and enhancing the structures in their selected cities, and ultimately reducing the large social inequalities that exist today. While their work will need to be continued long after the three-year initiative ends, they are building a vital framework to support forward progression. By creating and nurturing strong relationships with community organizations, policymakers, and other stakeholders, SPARCC will leave behind a strong network that can continue to push for change in urban design, and improved health and social justice.