When Parks and Rec Rules the World

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What happens when the field of parks and recreation reaches its potential?

Will your recreation provider also become your healthcare provider?
Will the best and brightest people compete to work for their local parks and recreation?
Will we finally invest ample money – not only into new parks – but to maintaining and marketing parks, services, and facilities?

That’s what I keep wondering, because I know the potential is there. But not everyone sees it.

We still have many communities without quality parks, programs, trails, and staff. At the crux of it all, we see communities that don’t have the funding to invest in what some would call these “nonessentials”: parks and recreation.

We all know we need roads, stop signs, and schools. But parks? Some would argue that they are amenities, not necessities. Even though they increase property value, improve personal health, and reduce crime, parks and recreation services are still undervalued. Local governments don’t have sufficient evidence to increase budgets to allow for additional funding.

In addition, I’m not sure that the people who work in parks and recreation are the best advocates of the benefits we provide. In fact, I would say that they cannot be.

I’ve seen (and experienced) that the majority of time and energy of parks and recreation professionals is often spent navigating the bureaucracy and inefficiencies of local governments, rather than working to provide additional value to the community through our services.

I don’t believe that it’s any one’s fault – it is the system in which we are operating. However, I also believe professionals have the responsibility to fight for the resources, ideas, and innovations that keep parks and recreation programs alive.

What if we didn’t have to stand alone?

Some of the strongest advocates of local parks and rec programs are the community members themselves. Dog owners. Pickleball players. Volunteer coaches.

Too often, these vocal advocates are seen as a nuisance rather than a strength. In public meetings, they are the ones fighting for what they want. Do you see it as an annoyance? Just another thing to add to your list? What about when they call your office and ask for more lighting in parks, more gym time, and more field space? You can’t please them all, so why even try, right? Is that where your mindset is? Then it’s time to change the way we think about community engagement.

I’m still wondering about the future of parks and recreation. As we all continue to become more busy and stressed, I know this for a fact: the need for parks and recreation programs will increase exponentially. We will need to increase our efforts to justify the value of parks and recreation programs, while working with vocal community members to make it happen.

When we are able to embrace the full value of parks and rec, then our communities will thrive. It’s only a matter of time.

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