Not long ago, I participated in a conference at which I met a park director who was very dismissive of the idea that his parks should have nature places for kids to play. He felt that there was no need for such places since those who used his parks were really only interested in athletics and sports. I was puzzled by this mentality. To me, it’s a no-brainer that park directors and park designers should at least consider adding a nature component for kids to every new park that they bring online — even those parks that are purely designed for sports and athletics. I think we sometimes get stale in our thinking about what a park is and who it is for. Are we asking ourselves, “When kids come to our parks, is there a place for them to connect to nature?”
Just looking at the example of parks that are designed primarily for sports, very often the people who use those parks come in a family group. Parents come to watch their kids compete in league play, often with younger siblings in tow. The younger kids want something else to do besides watch the competition. Budget permitting, traditional park designers will certainly recommend adding a playground for younger kids. But why are we not also designing a nature play space to go along with the playground?
Sometimes, we put our own blinders on without even realizing we have limited our vision. NRPA was recently the recipient of a substantial grant to promote green infrastructure stormwater management in parks in underserved communities. We will re-grant these funds to three-to-five park and recreation agencies so they can complete green infrastructure stormwater management projects in their parks. However, these funds will only be approved if the agency demonstrates there will be co-benefits to underserved or low-income communities.
We believe parks can become spaces that not only treat and filter stormwater, but also promote health and address social equity. We have long believed that parks build community, and parks certainly build environment. But we realized that we, too, had to think outside the box. If we let ourselves get trapped in stale thinking, we won’t see the potential to change lives.
Any park can build young lives, and we should look at every opportunity we have to connect kids to nature. Let us all be open to every opportunity to design our parks — every park — for them to do so. After all, if the next generation doesn’t have a connection to nature, who will support parks in the future?
Barbara Tulipane, CAE, is NRPA's President and CEO