The 2015 Menino Survey of Mayors, an annual survey by the Boston University Initiative on Cities, found strong support for parks spending broadly across city size and without significant distinction by party affiliation from the 89 mayors surveyed. Mayors responded that aging infrastructure was far and away the biggest challenge they face in the next five years and would therefore be their top priority. Specifically, the mayors would invest in roads, mass transit, and water and stormwater management as top priorities, but surprisingly, investing in parks ranked just behind these top mayoral priorities, the fifth-highest priority on a list of 12 top categories for “big-ticket” priorities.
Mass transit and roads were the top choices for large projects that would “consist of a large portion of your city’s capital budget.” However, parks and bike and pedestrian improvements moved to the top two choices for small projects; that is, ones that would commit a smaller percentage of the city’s capital budget. Responses did not vary by city size.
What is the significance of the results of the Menino survey to public parks and recreation? For one, the spending priorities identified by this comprehensive survey of mayors reinforces the growing recognition that high-quality parks are vital to the success of communities and that mayors recognize the critical importance of parks even when asked to choose among many other important infrastructure priorities.
Parks as infrastructure is not a new concept, but the growing recognition of how parks in the built environment shape the life of cities is breaking new ground. In NRPA’s recently released Perceptions study, the public affirmed results of 25 years ago that they personally benefit from public parks, and that universally, they believe their communities benefited from local public parks.
Interestingly, a large majority of mayors believe that they are not receiving a substantial amount of support from their state or the federal government. Mayors felt that they are tasked with some of the thorniest issues facing America, yet they are not receiving the help that their predecessors received. The implications, especially for parks and recreation, are that mayors will look for more creative partnerships with other public sectors, make greater use of innovative funding and revenue sources and, clearly, place more reliance on public/private partnerships to leverage taxpayer-supported funding.
NRPA continues to push the envelope in exploring a full range of solutions to meet the growing challenges of parks and recreation. Knowing that mayors place a high priority on parks spending will create new opportunities to engage their support for creative solutions to provide high-quality park and recreation facilities in their cities.
Barbara Tulipane, CAE, is NRPA's President and CEO.