Winning Hands

October 1, 2012, Department, by Phil Hayward

Phil Hayward, EditorIt’s always easier to make the most of a game of cards when you’ve been dealt a really good hand. More often than not, it’s yours to lose, if you take one for granted. Our cover story this month features mayors of three large U.S. cities who grew up with an appreciation of parks and recreation and who have made the field integral in their administrations. To have mayors like Mick Cornett of Oklahoma City, Michael Nutter of Philadelphia, and Michael McGinn of Seattle should be a full house for any parks administrator.

But what if you’ve been dealt a lesser hand? What do you do with mayors lacking the passion for the many benefits that parks, recreation, and open space bring to a city? In “Network Buzz,” our new monthly column, we solicited advice through NRPA Member Networks about ways to engage local government officials. Virtually every response touted the importance of thoughtful, proactive communications. Some highlights include:

- Invite them to your events—as a participant, not just a spectator.
- Attend their meetings and work sessions.
- If you ignore them or don’t spend quality time with them, expect cuts to your budget.
- Within a strong mayor/city council form of government, make sure to fully inform and discuss with them major policy/political issues they need to know.

It’s such good common-sense advice for any municipal agency, but particularly so for parks and recreation. With so many good stories to tell, parks and recreation already have good hands to play.

Few agencies work their hands as well as Mecklenburg County (Charlotte), North Carolina. In this month’s Conservation column, Deputy Director Michael Kirschman discusses how his agency calculated and leveraged the return on local investment across a number of park and recreation areas: environmental, economic, public health, and more.

“If return on investment is important to your community, it is your responsibility to prove how your parklands add real value,” Kirschman writes. “If your agency has not begun to collect the data it needs to calculate ROI, the time to start is today.”

Need a wild card? NRPA’s research database, PRORAGIS (Park and Recreation Operating Ratio and Geographic Information System), can help you make your case. Visit www.nrpa.org/proragis to see how you can get a hand in the game.