By Vanessa Ortiz, SA2020 Mellon Fellow at SAHA
Post 11 | Series Archive
As a future Master in Public Health student, I find parks exciting. Not only are they beautiful additions to our city, they also provide many free opportunities to engage in physical activity. For a public health student, it doesn’t get any better than that.
Having said that, you probably don’t need me to tell you about the many health benefits of visiting a public park. The majority of us can likely remember back to our childhoods when we played ball, ran around, or jumped on the jungle gym having a grand ole sweaty time…
That is why I am genuinely ecstatic about the creation of SPARK Parks in San Antonio!
What are SPARK Parks?
SPARK Parks make school playgrounds available to the public during afterschool hours and on weekends. Residents living close to a school can use a SPARK to get their afternoon jog in, allow kids to run around and play, and basically have the advantage of having a space to be active nearby!
The Start of SPARKS
In 1983, the SPARK program began in Houston when former City Council Member Eleanor Tinsley recognized the need for more park land. Since then, the SPARK program has developed over 200 SPARK Parks in twelve school districts across Houston. Elementary schools are ideal sites for SPARK Parks because they are usually the most walkable, include playgrounds in their infrastructure, and do not have as much after-school programming as middle or high schools. SPARK Parks are recognized for their visually colorful theme, art, and/or visible signage. You know you are in a SPARK if you’re in an exciting and engaging school playground after school hours.
SPARKS in SA
Last November, the first SPARK Park in San Antonio opened to the public at Sky Harbour Elementary School. This first milestone was made possible by a collaborative effort between the City of San Antonio, San Antonio Sports, and Southwest ISD. There is even a cool video by SaludToday (see above) about the creation of the Sky Harbour SPARK!
Since last November a total of eight SPARKS have been created.
The SPARKS open to the public during after school hours and on weekends include:
Sky Harbour Elementary
Not only is it exciting that the SPARK program has made its way to San Antonio, but it is even more exciting that plans are in the works to add even more SPARKS! One of the goals of the SPARK Program in San Antonio is to distribute SPARK Parks across all City Council districts. Currently, there are seven SPARK locations that are underway or proposed.
In addition to these locations, plans to recommend more sites for City funding are also in place! The SA2020 Access to Parks and Green Spaces (APAGS) network has been gathering walkability and health data to find sites that would provide park space for the greatest number of people within a half-mile to the proposed SPARK. Again, as a public health advocate, I can think of no better way to improve residents’ health, make use of existing resources, and increase access to parks than through SPARKS. It is clearly a win-win-win.
What You Can Do
Tie up your running shoes or grab a bike and visit a SPARK near you! Some SPARK Parks may have different schedules depending on the time of year, so make sure to check that out first. It’s a good thing school is just around the corner, ensuring all SPARK Parks are open and ready to go soon!