Landmark study: Columbia residents report easy access to recreational areas and diverse social networks

The Knight Foundation-commissioned report also reveals while most residents feel these amenities are important, a national gap in access to these areas exists along racial and economic lines.

COLUMBIA, S.C. – A new groundbreaking study commissioned by the Knight Foundation and conducted by the Urban Institute finds that most residents of the Columbia metro area report easy access to recreational areas and have diverse social circles. Nationally, the report found that racial and economic disparities in accessing these areas may exist in urban communities such as Greater Columbia.

  • Many residents have diverse social circles: 64% know someone from a different racial or ethnic background, and most know someone from a different socioeconomic background. 
  • In Greater Columbia, 83% of residents report easy access to recreational areas.
  • Nationally, this study found that while recreational areas ultimately could create more attachment between residents and their community, low-income residents and residents of color often feel that these amenities are less accessible to them than higher-income, white residents.

“This study illustrates that there is an opportunity to build stronger, more lasting connections between residents and their community by investing in public spaces — such as Columbia’s riverfront — especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, when outdoor areas are even more important,” said Lilly Weinberg, Knight’s senior director of community and national initiatives. “We need to invest with equity in mind to help ensure that important community amenities are available to all residents equally, while we continue to build on Columbia’s diverse and vibrant community.”

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 Columbia — 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 did not. 
  • The Columbia data reveals how attached local residents are to the Columbia metro area and where gaps in access exist across urban amenities. It offers points of consideration for such leaders such as  boosting time in the city, focusing on quality of life and paying attention to issues of equity, 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 Alexa Lamanna at [email protected] or 202-320-2766.

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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 kf.org.

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.


Image (top) by Daniel Reche on Pexels.