January 2004

Grant Results

SUMMARY

Project staff at Durham Central Park in Durham, N.C., worked with a coalition of 22 community groups to develop or support events that included physical activities or to interject exercise into events not normally associated with it. The resulting 20-plus events were also designed to increase awareness of the neighborhood and to promote a sense of community pride and safety among residents.

Key Results
The project helped support more than 20 activities in and around the park, including:

  • African-American Dance Ensemble workshops — a series of 10 one-and-a-half-hour Saturday morning dance workshops.
  • YMCA fitness walks — a series of one-half hour walks through the park.
  • Historical walking tours — two-hour walks conducted by the Historic Preservation Society of Durham.
  • Durham Art Walk — an annual seven-hour event with a walking tour of area art studios.
  • Gardening workdays — three-hour gardening sessions on "gardening days" run by the Volunteer Center of Durham.

Funding
The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) provided a $129,421 grant from January 2001 to December 2002 to support the project.

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THE PROBLEM

Despite the well-documented benefits of exercise, 60 percent of Americans do not participate in enough physical activity to provide health benefits. Communities across the country are beginning to recognize their role in promoting active living, but there are few community-based models for them to draw upon that demonstrate ways a community can provide access to exercise.

In 1994, a group in Durham, N.C., created a nonprofit organization called Durham Central Park to revitalize a historic, but dilapidated downtown neighborhood called Durham Central Park. The group planned to provide and promote events with physical activity components for residents in a newly designed five-acre park, also called Durham Central Park, and in the area surrounding it.

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RWJF STRATEGY

This project was one of several RWJF-funded pilot sites exploring the connections between community design and the health and physical activity of residents. Project staff here, in Colorado (grant ID# 036432) and in Rhode Island (grant ID# 038181) investigated whether making changes to the community infrastructure, such as developing downtown parks or urban walking paths, would encourage more residents to incorporate physical activity into their daily routines.

RWJF also supported seven community walking projects in New Jersey though a state-wide effort called New Jersey Walks and Bikes.

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THE PROJECT

As part of this project, staff members worked with 22 community groups to find ways for neighborhood residents to experience first-time positive fitness experiences. Together the project staff and partnering groups supported or developed recurring park events that featured some form of exercise.

They also came up with fresh ways to insert exercise components into activities that did not normally have them. In addition to supplying residents with exercise opportunities, the events were also designed to increase awareness of the area and a sense of safety and community pride.

Community collaborators in the project included city planners, law enforcement groups, universities, medical and public health officials, arts organizations and others.

The project staff conducted surveys of area residents early in the project and again at the project's end to determine residents' attitudes toward exercise and their perceived barriers to regularly engaging in it. Project staff members report that methodological issues related to the data collection prevented them from performing a rigorous analysis of the residents' responses.

Nevertheless, they say that it was clear that residents identified lack of time as the main deterrent to exercise.

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RESULTS

The project helped support more than 20 activities in and around the park, including:

  • African-American Dance Ensemble workshops — a series of 10 one-and-a-half-hour Saturday morning dance workshops.
  • YMCA fitness walks — a series of one-half hour walks through the park.
  • Historical walking tours — two-hour walks conducted by the Historic Preservation Society of Durham.
  • Durham Art Walk — an annual seven-hour event with a walking tour of area art studios.
  • Gardening workdays — three-hour gardening sessions on "gardening days" run by the Volunteer Center of Durham.

The staff measured event success by the number of attendees, the level of enthusiasm generated and media coverage. "Cop Walk," a plan to have residents walk through the park with a police officer was the only event with poor attendance. As a result, the project staff concluded that safety was not a concern to residents.

Communications

The project staff conducted a public awareness campaign including press releases for each event, local advertising campaigns and public service announcements. They also initiated a monthly e-mail newsletter covering park-sponsored events and activities.

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AFTER THE GRANT

This project helped RWJF determine how to shape its Active Living by Design national program, which establishes and evaluates innovative approaches that support active living by promoting changes in local community design, transportation and architecture that make it easy for people to be physically active. RWJF also started Active Living Research to stimulate and support research that will identify environmental factors and policies that influence physical activity (for more information see Grant Results).

In 2003, RWJF's approach to active living expanded to place a greater emphasis on nutrition and obesity through projects that help communities improve access to healthy foods. Therefore, RWJF declined further support to Durham Central Park.

Since RWJF funding ended, numerous community efforts have focused on enhancing the park as a place not only to be physically active but also to learn about healthy lifestyles.

Through a bond referendum, citizens of Durham approved funds for a greenway through town (including the park) to connect trails going north and south from the city. A local credit union has recently agreed to manage a capital campaign for Durham Central Park with a goal of $750,000 to support three related projects within the park:

  1. Building a pavilion to house the Durham farmer's market that now takes place on property just outside the park.
  2. Further development of existing community gardens for inner-city residents near the pavilion.
  3. Creating a pilot nutrition education and demonstration cooking program for children and adults.

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GRANT DETAILS & CONTACT INFORMATION

Project

Creating an Activity-Friendly Community in Durham Central Park

Grantee

Durham Central Park (Durham,  NC)

  • Amount: $ 129,421
    Dates: January 2001 to December 2002
    ID#:  040172

Contact

Leigh Scott
(919) 682-2800
durhamcentralpark@downtowndurham.com

Web Site

http://www.durhamcentralpark.org

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Report prepared by: Janet Spencer King
Reviewed by: Richard Camer
Reviewed by: Molly McKaughan
Program Officer: Katherine M. Kraft

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