East Bay Regional Park District 2021 Community Survey
Authors: Carolyn Abrams and Brandon Louie
The East Bay Regional Park District (EBRPD) is a system of parklands and trails in Alameda and Contra Costa counties to the east of San Francisco. The system comprises nearly 125,000 acres in 73 parks, including over 1,250 miles of trails. EBRPD has a long history of surveying its public to best understand the current interests of East Bay residents. Recognizing new, prominent communication methods—including social media and text— and a growing, diverse East Bay population, the EBRPD Government Affairs team initiated the Park and Public Interest Community Engagement Project to improve the agency’s survey techniques and continue to collect relevant information on the public’s interests. A core focus for EBRPD’s surveying and advocacy engagement is to better amplify all voices of the East Bay’s diverse voters and park supporters to ensure inclusive and equitable investments. Following previous community survey efforts, the District recognized the need to acknowledge and address low geographic and demographic response areas. To do so, it partnered with the UC Davis Center for Regional Change (CRC) to host intentional community listening sessions and a community survey in 2021.
The community engagement effort facilitated with the CRC was conducted from November 2020 through July 2021. The objectives of this partnership were to help EBRPD cultivate new relationships with community partners, inform long-term relationship building strategies, and understand with greater depth the needs and interests of key constituencies that have largely been underrepresented in previous survey efforts. It started with an initial round of outreach and relationship building in the winter, which culminated in three community listening sessions held in February. The listening sessions were followed by a second round of outreach and relationship building in the spring, with the community survey administered in May and June of 2021. The EBRPD Board of Directors also supported and informed this process through a preliminary presentation to the Legislative Committee in March following the listening sessions and a presentation to the full Board in July after the close of the community survey. The community engagement and data collection effort was designed to be an iterative process: the initial round of outreach informed the design and facilitation of the listening sessions, which, in turn, informed the second round of outreach and relationship building and the revision and distribution of the survey.
- Assessing partnerships and reasons for engagement with EBRPD:
- People are drawn to EBRPD as park users and/or partners for a number of reasons, including their personal connection and sense of belonging to the parks; programmatic partnerships that support access for constituent groups and communities; for recreational opportunities and educational resources; and to support their physical health and social-emotional wellbeing.
- Survey respondents reported largely positive experiences at EBRPD parks and trails, with 34% reporting an overall excellent experience and 45% reporting an overall good experience.
- Almost 50% of survey respondents reported using the parks and trails somewhat more or significantly more since the start of the COVID -19 pandemic.
- Exploring factors contributing to one’s sense of safety and feeling welcome/unwelcome at parks or trails:
- The perceptions and realities of safety in the parks can look very different for different park user demographics.
- While connected to perceptions of safety, feeling welcome/unwelcome was also tied to additional concerns, including limited language accessibility, lack of diverse cultural representation, erasure of Indigenous cultures, and tension between different types of trail users.
- Fewer young people reported feeling welcome at EBRPD parks and trails. Female survey respondents reported feeling “very welcome” at higher rates than both male respondents and non-binary/gender nonconforming respondents. Male respondents were also more likely to report feeling “somewhat unwelcome” compared to others. Additionally, people who identified as Black/African American or Native Hawaiian/Other Pacific Islander were more likely to report feeling “somewhat unwelcome.”
- Investigating key barriers to access:
- Concerning physical barriers, transportation to the parks was identified by many listening session participants as an ongoing challenge, especially for those who do not live close to a park and are reliant on public transit.
- Regarding social barriers, lack of awareness of and familiarity with EBRPD and what it has to offer was noted as a significant concern—even for community members who may live close to a park.
- Identifying additional engagement, partnership, and outreach opportunities for EBRPD:
- Listening session participants identified groups for priority outreach and engagement that aligned with the park district’s priorities. This included seniors, youth, people with disabilities, immigrant groups, and Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC). In particular, many participants wanted to see youth intentionally included in these conversations and processes moving forward.
- Listening session participants noted the importance of emphasizing inclusivity and communicating with and through trusted community partners, organizations and messengers.
- Organized groups and programmatic partnerships were seen as an effective way to promote access to the parks, introduce new park users to the system, and reduce social barriers. Programs that included transportation could also help alleviate physical barriers to accessibility. Online programming was noted as a strategy that could be expanded even when there are no longer in-person restrictions due to the pandemic.
- Developing a more complex understanding of people’s needs and priorities necessitates the use of multiple data collection methods.
- Outreach and communication should remain an iterative process in order to yield strong partnerships.
- Providing intentional and appropriate programming has the potential to cultivate an inclusive atmosphere for specific groups (e.g., BIPOC, LGBTQ+, people with disabilities). EBRPD should work with organizations that serve these populations to support healthy community relationships and signal to East Bay residents that they are welcome at parks and trails.
- The leadership of the park district should reflect the diversity of the East Bay communities.
For more information about EBRPD, visit: https://www.ebparks.org
The CRC congratulates the East Bay Regional Park District (EBRPD) on their award of the prestigious 2021 Global Citizen Award by the United Nations Association USA, East Bay and Silicon Valley Chapters. The award recognizes EBRPD’s leadership role in providing essential services during the COVID-19 pandemic as well as their contributions to the UN 17 Sustainable Development Goals. In 2021, EBRPD partnered with the CRC to host intentional community listening sessions and a community survey. Read about it here.