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What are the critical issues?

Critical issues are identified as the key factors arising from our research findings, relating both to environment and to personal circumstances that affect use of the environment, that need to be addressed in order to facilitate people’s outdoor activities and experience of their neighbourhood.

This section will be updated as the final analyses of data is completed.

The following suggestions are based on OPENspace survey analyses to date, relating to our participants’ use of their neighbourhoods as well as on evaluations of their preferences for environmental attributes.

Improving the experiences of the local neighbourhood

1. Lack of nuisance

  1. Anti-social behaviour: decreasing levels of nuisance and addressing perceptions of nuisance, e.g. where groups of young people are perceived as threatening, can make a difference.
  2. Vandalism: open spaces should be free from graffiti as this is a deterrent to the pursuit of outdoor activities.
  3. Litter and rubbish: the condition of the environment in terms of maintenance was a main concern for participants, suggesting that poor maintenance can decrease use of open spaces.

2. Quality paths

  1. Barrier-free paths: our findings suggest that walking is the prevalent form of transport for older people, so it is crucial that paths leading to/from open spaces and key destinations be wide, smooth and free from obstacles.

3. Good facilities

  1. Furnished open spaces: the presence of seats, toilets, cafes and shelters were predictors of the time participants spend outdoors and can significantly increase the incentive for undertaking outdoor activities.

4. Neighbourhood aesthetics

  1. Water features: attractive features in nearby outdoor spaces, such as a fountain or a lakeside, may entice older people to use them more frequently.
  2. Quality of trees and plants: these elements are an important part of pleasant outdoor space and were associated with significantly more time spent outdoors by participants, as well as being conducive to recreational walking.

top of pageOverall preference

OPENspace’s analysis shows that, in terms of overall preference, there are both personal and environmental factors which may become critical in relation to the use of outdoor spaces by older people.

Personal factors

1. Older people living alone
  1. Distance to the open space and presence of trees along footpath were likely to make a difference to the use of outdoor spaces for participants living alone.
2. Older people living with someone else
  1. Facilities (e.g. café and toilets) and a car park appeared as most prominent elements for participants who are living with someone else.
3. Older people with mobility impairment
  1. The presence of seats both en route and at the open space were seen as major factors affecting the outdoor activities for participants with impaired mobility.

Trade-off situations; comparison between environmental attributes

The following are based on the OPENspace survey making comparisons between different aspects of local open space to explore what environmental attributes make the most difference to older people.

1. Nuisance versus facilities

Participants would accept having some level of nuisance (such as undesirable youngsters hanging around) if they could also have facilities such as café and toilets in their local open space.

2. Trees versus traffic

Participants would rather have an open space with few trees (both along paths and in the park) but light traffic than one with heavy traffic and lots of trees.

3. Trees versus facilities

Participants were willing to trade lack of facilities (such as café and/or toilets) in order to have tree-lined paths and dense trees and plants in their local open spaces.

4. Aesthetically pleasing versus well-maintained open spaces

Participants seemed to be willing to trade a poorly maintained (in terms of general maintenance, quality of pavement, and extension of pavement) open space in order to have an aesthetically pleasing one(i.e., dense trees/plants, water features, wildlife).

The OPENspace choice-based conjoint analysis allows a whole range of different trade-off situations to be compared across the range of attributes explored, to see what makes most difference to participants’ preferences. For further information, contact openspace@eca.ac.uk


Alves, S., Aspinall, P., Ward Thompson, C., Sugiyama, T., Brice, R. and Vickers, A. 2008. Preferences of Older People for Environmental Attributes of Local Parks: The Use of Choice-Based Conjoint Analysis. Facilities 26 (11/ 12), 433-453.

Sugiyama, T., Ward Thompson, C. and Alves, S. 2008. Associations between neighborhood open space attributes and quality of life for older people in Britain. Environment and Behavior, first published on March 20, 2008 as doi:10.1177/0013916507311688

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OPENspace research centre: I'DGO - Inclusive Design for Getting Outdoors. Last updated 8 November 2008

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