Kristine Stratton, president and CEO of the National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA) issued the following statement regarding the recent incidents of racism in communities across the country:
“The recent high-profile incidents in Minneapolis, Minnesota, Glynn County, Georgia, and New York City, bring to light the urgent need for real and substantive dialogue about systematic inequality and racial bigotry facing people of color in communities throughout the United States. I believe park and recreation professionals, who champion inclusiveness, fairness and social equity, share my sentiments when I say — society has no place for racism, intolerance or divisiveness. It saddens me that during a time when we should be coming together as a unified nation to keep one another healthy and safe in the midst of a global pandemic, racial bias threatens to sow further division among people across multiple communities, and more importantly, endanger the lives of our family members, neighbors and loved ones. The goal of parks and recreation is about making parks and green spaces accessible to all, regardless of race, gender, religion or socioeconomics.
Watching the events unfold in the city of Minneapolis as a result of the tragic death of George Floyd necessitates broader discussions about our collective differences and challenges regarding race and culture, the changes that must be made moving forward, and what we can do as a park and recreation community to create the solutions that will help us heal as a country and overcome our pain and prejudices.
In the case of the Central Park incident, not only was it an example of a white person threatening a black person with a racist action, it reflected a fundamental breakdown in the social contract park patrons have, where patrons can help each other maintain social order and mutual respect for one another, so that all may enjoy our public spaces. Especially now, in the era of COVID-19 that has claimed more than 100,000 lives, what does the new social contract look like, and how can we help people understand that our spaces are for everyone and must be shared in mutual trust?
Moreover, we know that parks have not always been welcoming to people of color. In 2017, NRPA started the Parks for Inclusion project with the goal of helping our field take a holistic look at inclusion and work toward creating parks and programs that truly welcomed and included patrons from all walks of life. The Parks for Inclusion Report produced in 2018 reflected some hopeful trends, but also a great deal of work that still remained. Insufficient funding was cited in the report as the primary reason that agencies have not been able to make more progress, and we know that our current financial crisis is not helping in that regard. Nonetheless, there is progress that we can make together to support inclusive spaces — parks for all — even with constrained budgets.
It has never been more important for our industry to be a leading voice for social equity and inclusion. Our communities are visiting our public spaces in record numbers to find the physical and mental health solutions that parks and recreation uniquely provide. We are in the community building business — in the business of creating joy and supporting health and well-being. As we follow our path to recovery, let’s make sure we are opening our spaces and rebuilding our programs in service of our fundamental belief that everyone deserves a great park.”