I recently had the pleasure of attending the NRPA Data-Driven Government and Parks and Recreation Innovation Lab in Boston. To be truthful, I wasn’t sure how I would react to spending three days learning about technology and its place in government. However, despite my Boomer upbringing and my own technology-deficit disorder, I was blown away by Boston’s use of technology to improve efficiency and effectiveness. I learned about the dashboards being used by Mayor Marty Walsh to quantify results in performance. I and my colleagues got an inside glimpse at research and data visualization at MIT, and I was amazed by studies that tracked recycled trash across the country, robots in sewers that could predict where disease would spread in neighborhoods, and the use of cell phones to capture crowd behaviors. More importantly, I learned from fellow professionals about why and how the use of data could help demonstrate the impact of parks and open space on good health.
I listened to conversations about Miami-Dade County Parks, Recreation and Open Space Department’s study on how “greenness,” or having trees in neighborhoods, was linked to better health in distressed areas. I heard about Oklahoma City and Washington, D.C.’s work with police departments and how crime among young people was reduced when late-night recreation programs were available.
Like all NRPA member organizations, Great Rivers Greenway shares the anecdotes of users who say their walking clubs, fitness classes or just time in nature improves their daily lives. These are the stories I like to share when I am speaking to groups, but they would be stronger and more compelling if supported by hard data.
So, I have to ask myself, if all this data and information is out there, why does our industry continue to struggle for funding? Why is it always the last in line for budget allocations? And, perhaps most importantly, how do we distill important research data into meaningful sound bites that make sense to the public and elected officials?
This month’s issue of Parks & Recreation magazine is dedicated to NRPA’s Health and Wellness Pillar, and includes many stories of the deep, demonstrable connections between parks, open green space and public health, both mental and physical. Every day the evidence of park and recreation’s positive health impacts is mounting — I challenge all of us to gather the personal testimonies of constituents whose health has been improved by their involvement with parks and recreation and then support those stories with hard data to make the most compelling case for fully funding our work.
It is imperative to take advantage of this moment, when both public opinion and hard data are on the side of parks and recreation. We’re already making a tremendous impact on the health of our citizens and communities — it seems there’s nowhere to go but up.
Susan K. Trautman, CPRP, is the Chair of NRPA's Board of Directors.