RESEARCH BRIEF: Perception of Crime and Willingness to Use Space for Physical Activity in Madison Parish

Matt Greene, Holston, Denise, Stroope, Jessica, Freightman, Jamila, Sims, Joy K

Matt Greene, Jessica Stroope, Joy K. Sims, Jamila Freightman and Denise Holston

Madison Parish in northeast Louisiana is one of the parishes targeted by the LSU AgCenter for improvements in the health status of its residents through a program called Healthy Communities. This program is funded through a grant from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Having safe and accessible places to walk and exercise increases the likelihood of community members engaging in physical activity. The CDC Healthy Communities grant prioritizes community input to guide project implementation. A Healthy Communities forum in Tallulah, the parish seat of Madison Parish, identified unsafe, unusable walking trails and sidewalks and lack of fitness facilities as barriers to physical activity.

In response, the local Healthy Communities coalition focused on revitalizing the unused Fairgrounds Park, known locally as the Slab. Through funding provided through the CDC grant and local in-kind donations of labor and planning, the Healthy Communities coalition was able to make significant improvements, including repairing basketball goals, creating painted play spaces, adding a shade structure, and installing benches and trash cans.

During the revitalization, experts were brought in to help the community address concerns about potential crime. Recommendations included hosting regular events, posting park hours and rules for use, scheduling regular police surveillance, cleaning up litter and graffiti, and planting shrubs and greenery. Unfortunately, in May 2019, one year after the project was completed, the park was hit by a storm that destroyed the shade structure, bent benches, and damaged trash cans. Interviews five months after the storm assessed youth and adult perceptions of the park and perceived willingness to use the space for physical activity.

Interviews were held with two educators and a law enforcement professional, and a focus group was held with six high school students, some of whom attended the school next to the park. Researchers’ interpretations of results were confirmed by interview participants in follow-up meetings. The educators perceived a reduction in crime after the park revitalization. The law enforcement professional reported crime was low before and after the project. All three adults mentioned a reduction in the presence of people perceived to be associated with crime as a result of the project. However, all adult interviewees expressed they would not feel safe exercising in the area. Youth focus group participants asserted that the perception of crime was an ongoing issue and expressed concern about the area, particularly related to gangs and gun violence.

Matt Greene is a SNAP-Ed evaluation coordinator, Jessica Stroope is a research associate, Joy K. Sims is a SNAP-Ed extension agent, Jamila Freightman is CDC Healthy Communities program manager, and Denise Holston is an assistant professor and extension nutrition specialist in the School of Nutrition and Food Sciences.

(This article appears in the summer 2020 issue of Louisiana Agriculture.)

Read more about efforts in Madison Parish to make the communities healthier: Community plans ‘pocket park,’ crosswalks in Tallulah

Group of people gathered around tables.
Members of the Madison Parish Healthy Communities Coalition meet in August 2019. Photo by Sarah Sims
Patch of grass and cracked sidewalk.

The family of William Roundtree donated land, which was the original location of the family home, for a park in Tallulah, Louisiana. The park will include a botanical garden and walking trail. Roundtree was a prominent member of the community and owner and editor of the Madison Journal for more than 50 years. Photo by Charles Brown

9/4/2020 6:32:25 PM
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