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Urban Natural Resources Stewardship

What Attracts and Repels Visitors to Urban Recreation and Environmental Education Sites?

Research Issue

[photo:] A bicyclist in Chicago's Lincoln Park.“If we build it, will they come?”  The conventional wisdom, of course, is that people are naturally attracted to recreation and educational facilities and that they will come if you build one.  But the City of Chicago's future Ford Calumet Environmental Center will be in a region that contains both attractive and unattractive environmental features, making it harder to predict who will choose to visit.

Our Research

Until recently, research on how people choose recreation sites to visit has focused on attractive, mostly natural settings like national parks and wilderness areas, not on urban recreation areas where a mixture of natural and constructed features may both attract and discourage visitors.

The future Ford Calumet Environmental Center (FCEC) will be located in the largely industrial Calumet region of Chicago.  Today the region has few public sites that attract people from outside the area for recreation or environmental education.  The FCEC site at Hegewisch Marsh is a former brownfield where the main contaminants (mostly illegally-dumped trash, construction debris, and abandoned cars) have been removed.  The restored 130-acre site is part wetland, part mesic prairie, and part forest.

We worked with Purdue University and the City of Chicago Department of Environment to find out what will influence people's decisions to visit or not visit the FCEC. We asked 411 Chicago-area residents about their recreation interests, their past visitation at some of the larger and more well-known recreation sites in Chicago, and what factors would cause them to recommend that friends visit or avoid these sites.

We then asked about past associations and experiences (positive and negative) with the region around the future FCEC.  We described the future FCEC building and setting and asked whether they thought they would visit such a place and why.  We also asked what types of activities or programs at the FCEC would be the most interesting or attractive to them and their families.

Research Findings Regarding the FCEC

Although some people were concerned about pollution, safety, and health issues, over half of the research participants said they would probably or definitely visit the new Ford Calumet Environmental Center. The research suggests that people who live nearby and who feel a sense of attachment to the region will be the most likely to go there.

Other Research Findings

Analysis of the past visitation responses indicated that the most frequently visited Chicago-area sites on our list were Grant/Millennium Park, Lincoln Park, Lincoln Park Zoo, Shedd Aquarium, Chicago Botanic Garden, Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, and the Brookfield Zoo.  Of all of the sites on the list, respondents were most likely to recommend that a friend visit (in this order) Grant/Millennium Park, Shedd Aquarium, Brookfield Zoo, Chicago Botanic Garden, Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, and Lincoln Park Zoo.

Interestingly, while 99 percent of respondents identified a place to visit, only half identified a place to avoid.   Open-ended comments provided by respondents indicated that they would avoid  places that they perceived as unsafe or dangerous. 

It is notable that a few sites were listed by some respondents as places to avoid and by other respondents as a place to visit.  The reasons for avoiding these generally popular places included bad past experiences, difficulties in accessing or parking at the site, too expensive to visit, too crowded/busy, or too commercial/touristy.

Research Results

Klenosky, D. B.; Vogt, C. A.; Schroeder, H. W.; Fisher, C. L. 2010. Place visitation, place avoidance, and attitudinal ambivalence: new concepts for place research in urban recreation settings. In: Watts, C. E., Jr.; Fisher, C. L., eds. Proceedings of the 2009 Northeastern Recreation Research Symposium. Gen. Tech. Rep. NRS-P-66. Newtown Square, PA: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Northern Research Station: 57-64.

Klenosky, D. B.; LeBlanc, C. L.; Vogt, C. A.; Schroeder, H. W. 2008. Factors that Attract and Repel Visitors to Urban Recreation Sites: Project Overview. In: C. L. LeBlanc and C. A. Vogt, comps. Proceedings, 2007 Northeastern Recreation Research Symposium. Gen. Tech. Rep. NRS-P-23. Newtown Square, PA: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Northern Research Station.

Research Participants

Principal Investigator

  • David Klenosky, Purdue University

Research Partners

  • Herbert Schroeder, Research Social Scientist, U.S. Forest Service, Northern Research Station
  • Christine Vogt, Michigan State University
  • SaraJane Marshall, Purdue University
  • Cherie LeBlanc Fisher, Social Scientist, U.S. Forest Service, Northern Research Station
  • Nicole Kamins, City of Chicago, Department of Environment

Last Modified: 10/19/2010

Featured Products

Klenosky, D. B.; Vogt, C. A.; Schroeder, H. W.; Fisher, C. L. 2010. Place visitation, place avoidance, and attitudinal ambivalence: new concepts for place research in urban recreation settings. In: Watts, C. E., Jr.; Fisher, C. L., eds. Proceedings of the 2009 Northeastern Recreation Research Symposium. Gen. Tech. Rep. NRS-P-66. Newtown Square, PA: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Northern Research Station: 57-64.

 

Klenosky, D. B.; LeBlanc, C. L.; Vogt, C. A.; Schroeder, H. W. 2008. Factors that Attract and Repel Visitors to Urban Recreation Sites: Project Overview. In: C. L. LeBlanc and C. A. Vogt, comps. Proceedings of the 2007 Northeastern Recreation Research Symposium. Gen. Tech. Rep. NRS-P-23. Newtown Square, PA: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Northern Research Station.