Groundbreaking study reveals importance of public spaces for Philadelphians, but racial equity gaps exists – Knight Foundation

Groundbreaking study reveals importance of public spaces for Philadelphians, but racial equity gaps exists

PHILADELPHIA – (August 6, 2020) – A new landmark study finds access to public spaces such as recreational areas drives deeper connections to communities for residents, but in Philadelphia more needs to be done to improve access to these amenities along race and socioeconomic lines.

Commissioned by the Knight Foundation and conducted by the Urban Institute, “Community Ties: Understanding what attaches people to the place where they live,” reveals that Philadelphia residents are more likely to stay rooted in their community over time than residents in other metro areas, and that they view access to parks and safe recreational spaces as very important. 

Some key findings include:

  • Local Philadelphia data from the study shows that 64% of residents say recreational areas are very important to them, and 87% feel they are easy to access. But there is also a racial disparity: among residents of color, 79% feel they have easy access to recreational areas such as parks and trails versus 92% of white residents. This echoes the national gap of 79% versus 88% respectively. 
  • Likewise, 87% of Philadelphians say safe places to live, work and play are very important to them and 72% report easy access to them. However, the racial access gap was even wider with only 57% of residents of color reporting easy access versus 81% of white residents. This represents a deeper divide than the national average (69% versus 83%) and highlights an issue that must be addressed.  

“This report emphasizes what many of our communities have felt and experienced, and that there is both a need and desire for equitable and safe access to public spaces for all Philadelphians to enjoy,” said Ellen Hwang, director of Knight’s Philadelphia program. “It’s critical to engage and partner with residents to develop and reimagine public spaces that meet their needs for equitable development.”

Conducted prior to the Covid-19 shutdowns, Community Ties leverages a survey of over 11,000 Americans residing in metro areas across the country — including Philadelphia — to create one of the richest datasets on what drives attachment to place. 

  • Those with access to quality of life amenities such as arts, recreational areas and safe places to live, work and play reported a deeper attachment to their community, compared with those who had access to jobs, affordable housing, schools, health care or other desirable features. 
  • The Philadelphia data reveals where gaps in access exist across urban amenities and what local leaders might do to strengthen residents’ ties to their communities. 

As cities plan for a post-COVID-19 world and reckon with racial justice, the report provides knowledge for public officials and other community leaders to help make cities more resilient, urban public spaces more equitable, and think anew about how to build places where people want to live, work, play and stay. 

To see how your city compares in different areas with other Knight communities and the national averages, go to our interactive website

For interviews, please contact Alise Murawski at [email protected] | 202-702-6903.


About the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation
Knight Foundation is a national foundation with strong local roots. We invest in journalism, in the arts, and in the success of cities where brothers John S. and James L. Knight once published newspapers. Our goal is to foster informed and engaged communities, which we believe are essential for a healthy democracy. For more, visit

About Urban Institute 

The nonprofit Urban Institute is a leading research organization dedicated to developing evidence-based insights that improve people’s lives and strengthen communities. For 50 years, Urban has been the trusted source for rigorous analysis of complex social and economic issues; strategic advice to policymakers, philanthropists and practitioners; and new, promising ideas that expand opportunities for all. Our work inspires effective decisions that advance fairness and enhance the well-being of people and places.