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Participatory mapping is a powerful methodology for working with community residents to examine social and environmental determinants of public health disparities. However, this empowering methodology has only been applied sparingly in public health research and practice, with limited examples in the literature. To address this literature gap, we 1) review participatory mapping approaches that may be applied to exploring place-based factors that affect community health, and 2) present a mixed-methods participatory geographic information systems (PGIS) examination of neighborhood assets (eg, streetlights) and challenges (eg, spaces of crime and violence) related to access to public parks in South Los Angeles, California. By taking a participatory, fine-grained spatial approach to examining public park access with input from 40 South Los Angeles adolescent and adult residents, our community-engaged PGIS approach identified tobacco shops as previously unrecognized community institutions that are associated with increased neighborhood crime and violence. Our investigation revealed unique challenges in community-level public park access that would likely have been overlooked by conventional spatial epidemiology and social science methods, such as surveys and questionnaires. Furthermore, our granular community-informed approach supported resident and stakeholder advocacy efforts toward reducing the proliferation of tobacco shops through community organizing and policy change initiatives. We thus contend that it would benefit public health research and practice to further integrate empowering, grassroots-based participatory mapping approaches toward informing advocacy efforts and policies that promote health and well-being in disadvantaged communities.


This article was originally published in Preventing Chronic Disease, volume 17, in 2020.

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