Akron Is Widening the Success Gap — Sorry, Pawnee

By Jayni Rasmussen | Posted on June 4, 2019

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Pawnee, Indiana, the fictional setting of NBC’s Parks and Recreation, has had many town slogans, but who could forget this one, listed by Leslie Knope in the second season: “Pawnee, the Akron of Southwest Indiana.” Akron is proving itself as the worthy envy of not only Indiana, but the country this week after releasing a personalized video from Jim O’Heir, who played both the schlemiel and schlimazel of the parks and recreation department, Jerry Gergich, in the hit tv show. Jim reprised his character from the show to promote Akron Parks Week, a project of the Akron Parks Collaborative that will celebrate the playful and historical parks across Akron. From June 8 to 15, Akron residents and visitors will participate in volunteer opportunities, events and celebrations at parks throughout the city.

With over 12,000 views, the video has gone viral among Akron residents, making the endeavor a huge success for the Akron Parks Collaborative. Thanks to support from the Akron Rubber Ducks — a local Minor League Baseball team — Akron Parks Collaborative was able to hire a digital marketing firm that used an app called “Cameo” to hire Jim O’Heir for the video. This local support is just one of many standout efforts by city leaders and nonprofits to support Akron’s parks. James Hardy, Deputy Mayor of Akron and a huge fan of parks and recreation — both in real life and of the show — has been a key player in supporting the Akron Parks Collaborative’s work.

Last year, the Akron Parks Collaborative came together as a partnership of many friends groups across the Akron area, modeling their Akron Parks Week after Philadelphia’s successful Love Your Park Week. The organization recognized the need for community input in developing their parks, organizing the Akron Parks Challenge to engage communities around neighborhood parks to create active and vibrant public spaces.

The Challenge collected applications from residents to improve their local park, receiving 69 applications from every ward of the city. The Akron Parks Collaborative then selected three winning parks, awarding $100,000 from the city coffers for community-approved improvements to each park. Each park formed a friends group that created a continued maintenance plan and a sustainable community engagement process for future requests and needed improvements. The effort even leveraged an additional $30,000 in foundational support for one of the parks, and the local high school has pitched in, offering the help of the school’s masonry program, through which students have produced and laid bricks for a park walkway.

The week ends with an Akron Rubber Ducks game at Canal Park. Anyone who volunteered during Akron Parks week gets a reduced entry fee to the game, complete with a group photo on the field if they wear their volunteer t-shirt. The winners of the 2019 Akron Parks Challenge will also be announced at the baseball game.

In the fifth season of Parks and Recreation, as any good fan will remember, then-City Manager Ben Wyatt makes a pitch to a tech company to invest in Pawnee, saying, “Obviously we’re no Akron, but…” With the amazing efforts of the Akron Parks Collaborative and a little promotional help from Jerry Gergich, it seems Akron is widening the success gap — sorry, Pawnee! Be sure to follow Jerry’s advice and follow Akron Parks Week starting June 8!

Jayni Rasmussen is NRPA’s Advocacy and Outreach Manager.

Video from Jim O'Heir promoting Akron Parks Week