Landmark study reveals importance of public spaces for Charlotte residents, but racial equity gaps exists

Charlotte – (August 17, 2020) – A new groundbreaking study finds access to public spaces such as recreational areas drives deeper connections to communities, but in Charlotte more can be done to improve access to these amenities along racial lines.

The groundbreaking study commissioned by the Knight Foundation and conducted by the Urban Institute, “Community Ties: Understanding what attaches people to the place where they live,” shows that access to parks and safe spaces to live, work and play stand out among urban amenities that boost residents’ feelings of satisfaction and connection to their community. In Charlotte, the report found racial disparities in accessing these things.

Some key findings include:

  • Local Charlotte data from the study shows that 59% of residents say recreational areas such as parks and trails are very important to them, and 83% feel they are easy to access. But there is also a racial disparity: Among residents of color, 78% feel they have easy access to recreational areas versus 86% of white residents. This echoes the national gap of 79% versus 88% respectively. 
  • Likewise, 87% of Charlotteans say safe places to live, work and play are very important, and 75% report easy access to them. However, that figure drops to 68% for residents of color. Nationally, about 77% of respondents reported easy access, including 69% of people of color.

“In Charlotte, and particularly in the West End neighborhood, we see vibrant public spaces as essential in the community“ said Charles Thomas, director for Knight Charlotte program. “However, we know we still have a ways to go to achieve equitable access to these amenities for all Charlotteans to enjoy.”   

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 Charlotte — 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 Charlotte data reveals how attached local residents are to the city and where gaps in access exist across urban amenities. It offers points of consideration for such leaders such as —  boosting time in center city, focusing on quality of life, 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 Tony Franquiz at [email protected] or 202-374-5393. 

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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): Charlotte, NC by Jeremy Alford on Unsplash.