2. Materials and Methods
We used brief intercept surveys with adult park users visiting 12 pre-determined parks within a Regional Council area in South-East Queensland, Australia. The parks were selected to ensure a cross-section of park users was reached, based on three criteria: geographical area (five areas across the Region), park classification (local, district, or regional), and age of park equipment (old, new, or combination), all parks had at least one playground and field area. A mixed-methods approach of park audits and systematic observation of park users’ physical activity levels were undertaken and recorded as part of a broader study but is reported elsewhere. The data presented within this paper was obtained via intercept surveys with questions aimed at identifying adults’ motivations for visiting the park, their perceptions of the park design and physical activity opportunities, and intergenerational interactions within the park setting. Four trained research assistants conducted the face-to-face intercept surveys over a four-month period during the Australian summer months (i.e., December 2017–March 2018). Each park was visited on four days (two weekdays and two weekend days), between 7:00 a.m. and 6:30 p.m., except for one park that was visited on three days.
The multi-disciplinary research team, comprising social scientists, landscape architecture and planning researchers, and health researchers, developed the intercept survey. During the development process, the research team discussed the survey questions to ensure suitability, clarity, and relevance. An iterative review process was undertaken by the research team, which resulted in minor changes and additions to the survey questions. Furthermore, during the review process, consultation was held with key stakeholders with historical knowledge about design concepts of the parks (i.e., urban planners and landscape architects working within the Council), and the park users.
The intercept survey comprised five sections; the park users were asked questions about their park visitation, perceptions of the park design, physical activity opportunities (affordances) at the park, intergenerational interaction at the park, and demographics. The park visitation section comprised nine closed-ended questions to gauge the reasons for visiting the park, and with whom they were visiting the park, particularly whether they were at the park with children or not. Further, a subjective measure of their perceptions of park design comprised closed and open-ended questions, including two items ascertaining satisfaction with the design of the park and amenities present within the park using a five-point Likert scale (1-very dissatisfied, through 3-neutral, to 5-very satisfied). The perceptions of physical activity section enquired about the areas in the park the respondent felt they were most active, as well as the areas their children were most active (if visiting with children), and they were asked to explain the factors that allowed for these activities (open-ended question). The intergenerational interaction section was only administered to those parents/caregivers visiting the park with a child/ren. This section comprised three open-ended questions aimed to uncover the type of interactions that typically occurred across generations when at the park. Demographics collected included age category, gender, and the number of girls and boys visiting the park with them in three age categories (i.e., 0–5 years, 6–12 years, and 13–18 years).
The questions were uploaded to an online software program (Key Survey) and administered by research assistants using an iPad. The surveys were also audio recorded to capture verbal responses to open-ended questions and allow transcription of these responses.
During the park visits, the research assistants approached adult park users and provided a brief description of the purpose and nature of the survey and asked them if they would like to participate. If the park user was interested in participating, they were provided with a paper-based “Participant Information Sheet” and those still interested in participating provided verbal consent to the research assistant. The research assistant then confirmed whether the participant was willing to have their responses audio-recorded, and if so, commenced with the audio-recording.
A total of 417 adult park users participated in the survey. However, 31 (7%) of the respondents did not agree to have their responses recorded, and thus, their survey responses could not be included in the qualitative analysis. The final sample comprised 386 adult park users who completed the survey and agreed to have their responses audio-recorded. The majority were female (n
= 234; 61%), and between 25 and 44 years old (63%). A large proportion were visiting the park with a child or children (n
= 263, 68%). Figure 1
provides the data on the total number of participants by age category as well as the number of adults at the park with a child/children, broken down by gender.
2.4. Data Treatment
All recorded responses were transcribed verbatim and uploaded into Nvivo for data analysis. The analysis was conducted in line with Braun and Clarke’s (2006) phases of thematic analysis [15
For Phase 1: Familiarization with the data; a sample of 20 transcripts were reviewed by three members of the research team, and initial ideas for coding were proposed and discussed.
Phase 2: Generation of initial codes; researchers used an inductive approach as no pre-existing codes were identified, a priori. After the generation of initial codes (based on a sample of 40 transcribed surveys), a research assistant was then trained to code the remaining transcripts. The surveys were coded with the relevant codes, thus resulting in some extracts with numerous codes assigned. Throughout the coding process, a small number of new codes emerged. Survey transcripts analyzed prior were reread to allow for the new codes to be applied. Thus, an iterative coding process was employed. To enhance the reliability of the analysis, 65 (17%) of the survey transcripts were independently coded by two members of the research team. Subsequently, the transcripts were subjected to inter-rater reliability analysis using Cohen’s k statistic to determine if there was moderate agreement between the independent coders (k = 58).
Phase 3: Searching for themes; following the coding of the dataset, analysis was performed to identify the themes within two streams of interest (in line with the research questions posed). The two streams of interest included: (1) Descriptions of adult-child interactions, and (2) Descriptions of park areas utilized.
Phase 4: Reviewing themes, the extracts coded with the potential themes in Phase 3 were reread to ensure they formed a cohesive theme. The biggest adjustment made was with the ‘adult-child interactions’ stream, after it was identified that the potential theme “assisting” was not providing valuable unique information as the extracts were often also coded with either “playing” or “teaching”, both of which typically captured the meaning of the extract better.
Phase 5: Defining and naming themes was undertaken for both streams of interest. The three key themes within the ‘adult-child interactions’ stream were: (1) observing, (2) playing, and (3) teaching. Three themes were identified within the ‘park areas’ stream, these were: (1) playgrounds, (2) open fields, and (3) pathways.
In this study, we investigated the type of intergenerational interactions that currently occur within public suburban parks, as well as the park areas that afford these interactions. We identified that playgrounds, open spaces, and pathways were important park features that afford playing, observing, and teaching opportunities for caregivers and their children. This is in alignment with Moore and Cosco’s findings, where they found generous pathways linking different elements and areas within a neighborhood playground supported easy and active use by children and their carers [39
]. This indicates that, when these park features are designed to promote these affordances, public parks within residential neighborhoods can provide valuable opportunities for intergenerational engagement to contribute to social sustainability. As an important component of residential landscapes, which may lack community engagement opportunities often seen in urban areas, designing these spaces to accommodate and attract intergenerational users is one way to promote general health and well-being.
Within our study, we observed a large proportion (70%) of caregivers playing with their children, particularly within the playground. Our findings suggested that this area of the parks provided affordances for play for children, which was not surprising, but also affordances for adults to interact through play. We also identified that children were perceived to remain engaged with the playground for longer when there was a variety of equipment that afforded numerous options for play (for both interest and physical challenge). This is line with previous findings that challenging environments are attractive to adolescents [33
] and adds to the knowledge regarding the design of parks to enhance longer engagement.
The caregivers within our study were commonly playing with young children while at the park, especially when the children needed physical and social assistance or guidance. However, interacting through play appeared to diminish as the children got older, and assistance was no longer required. Even though older children do not necessarily need physical or social assistance when at the park, it may be a missed opportunity for social interaction between caregivers and older children. Particularly so when the “older children” age range starts at 5 years of age, which is when children in Australia typically start attending school. As found by Kessler [12
], teenagers who work through life lessons with older adults tend to exhibit more pro-social behaviors than those working with peers. Thus, suggesting that children and teenagers can learn important social skills with the guidance of older people and adults. For those attending school and spending a large amount of time with peers, going to a park with an adult could provide a valuable opportunity for positive intergenerational interactions, if these interactions occur.
As the caregivers in our study reported interacting less with older children, it may be beneficial to include affordances for adults to “play” and interact with these age groups. For example, playground designs could include equipment for older children that requires or encourages assistance from caregivers, which would promote adult-(older) child interactions. As found in an intergenerational intervention program in a Canadian school, enhanced social interactions can occur through socially engaging activities and an energetic atmosphere [1
]. It would be valuable to identify if this can be translated to parks. In addition, placing seating within playground areas rather than in surrounding areas, may facilitate greater interactions between caregivers and children. This could accommodate adults and older adults with mobility issues who suggested they were relegated to only ‘observe’, but may enjoy the opportunity for greater interaction with the children when at the park.
Approximately two-thirds (68%) of adult participants visited the park with one or more children. This suggests that park visitation can enable social interaction between adults and children. Our study also found that children are able to build social skills at the parks since it is often a place where different families can come together -“I think one of the best things in the park is developing their social skills, so they will meet with other kids and they learn to share toys and play together.” (R414). The park, and predominantly playground environment, assisted the children to learn the prosocial behaviors of taking turns, not pushing in, and showing respect to others. While variety within playgrounds appears important to maintain interest and challenge, having limited numbers of specific popular equipment appears to be valuable for children to learn important social skills and the concept of taking turns.
Within our study, 75% of the participants planned to visit the park for 30 min or longer. In addition, 75% of the caregivers reported interacting with their child/ren in more than one way when at the park (e.g., playing and observing). Taken together, these results suggest that the amount of intergenerational interaction that occurs at the park varies across the visit. Thus, even though caregivers observing children are not directly interacting with the children, it appears to be an opportunity for adults to interact with each other. For example, adult family members could ‘take the time to catch up’, or caregivers could forge social connections with other caregivers. However, our results did not provide insight into whether it was a good social space for adults to meet other adults. Past research indicates that this may vary in different cultural settings. A study comparing six public park playgrounds in the United States and Denmark, and the cultural similarities and differences, found the Danish respondents considered it most important to be together with their families, while the American respondents thought it was most essential that their children were physically active while being at the park [23
]. Despite the differences, all respondents stayed at the park longer and visited more often if they liked the social atmosphere of the playground. This suggests that ensuring there are spaces and seating in and around playgrounds to facilitate social interactions between those observing the playground is an important design element to promote social sustainability.
Even though our study primarily investigated intergenerational interactions that involved children, it is important to acknowledge the potential intergenerational utilization of public parks with generations other than children (e.g., adults and older adults). We found that almost half of the participants who visited the park without children indicated they used pathways. Older adults like long, wide, and smooth pathways for walking, and children need these same attributes for learning to ride and practicing on their scooters and bikes. Ensuring pathways are designed with these considerations can encourage utilization by the individual generations. In addition, as suggested by caregivers within our study, adults, as well as older adults, could walk while children ride bikes or scooters. This could allow for conversations and explorations together, and in turn, enhance the social connections between the generations.
The teaching and learning of physical skills can provide a great opportunity for adults and older adults to give back to the younger generation, and for children to appreciate the knowledge and skills of their elders. This is a chance for the generations to engage in mutual interests as well as value the assets of other generations [27
], an important step in promoting social sustainability. A public residential park can provide unique opportunities for this social interaction. Within our study, we identified several affordances for physical skills taught and learned at the park, including bike riding, ball skills, swinging, and climbing skills, and which occurred on the pathways, open fields, and playgrounds. The inclusion of these park features is commonplace. However, their value for intergenerational social connection may not be fully appreciated to date. The continued inclusion of these park features appears important to allow the teaching and learning of valuable physical skills, particularly in light of the smaller backyards typical of new suburban neighborhoods. To further enhance this unique intergenerational social interaction at parks, the provision of cues that encourage the teaching of these skills could add value.
The results reported here only include surveys conducted with people already accessing the public parks in residential neighborhoods. A limitation is that it does not provide information from the perspective of people who do not access the included parks. Additional phases of this research will include a survey of non-park users to better understand the barriers they may face for accessing the parks.
This study contributes to the knowledge on the use of public parks in residential neighborhoods and the intergenerational interactions that occur within the Australian suburban context. Key results show that intergenerational interactions occur when caregivers/parents are teaching, playing, or observing the children. These results demonstrate the importance of park design and its influences on teaching and learning opportunities. Playgrounds with pathways allow for teaching and learning of bike riding and handling skills, and grassy field areas encourage gross motor skill development and hand-eye coordination, through ball sports. Playground equipment allows for risk-taking and independent learning while under observation by the caregiver/parent. These teaching and learning opportunities allow for intergenerational and social interactions that may not otherwise occur within the respondents’ residential setting.
With playgrounds that are more appealing to accompanying adults in a number of ways, there is a chance that children will come more often and stay longer. Time spent in public parks has the potential to increase social sustainability within residential suburban areas. Current trends in society often separate the generations and keep people indoors. Yet, connecting different generations within neighborhood community parks may be an option to ensure social sustainability in the suburbs.
Public parks in residential neighborhoods have demonstrated specific areas for intergenerational physical activity and segue for social engagement, hence social sustainability. This type of social engagement within parks may be affording unique opportunities for caregivers to allow and witness their child/ren making decisions and taking risks and foster valuable parenting/caregiving opportunities as well as learning opportunities for the children. The provision of these opportunities could encourage different and potentially greater social engagement than those opportunities provided at home. In addition, these interactions can be complementary to developing the foundation of solid social engagement within families, rather than just simply existing within the presence of one’s family that may occur in today’s busy lifestyles.