Welcome back to our Park Engagement Blog series. As a reminder, this blog series is based on the 2023 Engagement With Parks Report, an annual report (begun in 2016) of 1,000 U.S. adults surveyed on questions ranging from frequency of park usage to parks and recreation as a component of local government, and more. With this data, park and recreation professionals can gain insight into how to best provide the public with the facilities and programming that they most need and desire. I encourage you to read the earlier blog posts in the series at the bottom of this page, as well.
Today, we will discuss the public’s support for park and recreation funding, initiatives they see as being most beneficial in their community, and their desire to be a part of the process. As was expressed in our last blog post, park and recreation departments around the country need more funding if they want to provide more support for lower-income neighborhoods. In order to build more parks in areas that lack green space, agencies must have the funding and governmental support to do so. And, according to the general public, they should have those resources.
Eighty-seven percent of survey respondents indicate it is important for local and state governments to sufficiently fund local park and recreation agencies to ensure that every community member has access to the amenities, infrastructure and programming that are offered. Nearly three in four respondents say this funding is very important (35 percent) or extremely important (29 percent).
The strongest support for park funding is found among Democrats and those indicating they are “very active” (85 percent indicating very or extremely important), parents (83 percent), and those living near a park or other recreation facility (80 percent). This data shows that the public strongly supports parks and recreation funding as they value these facilities in their everyday lives.
Nearly nine in 10 survey respondents view park and recreation initiatives as a benefit to their community. More specifically, 91 percent of those who live near parks view parks and recreation initiatives as beneficial to their community — a significantly higher number than those who do not live near parks (79 percent).
Similar gaps exist between those who are physically active and those who are not. Ninety-two percent of very active people responded that parks and recreation initiatives are beneficial to their community, while 84 percent of those who are not as active share the same sentiment. Lastly, there is a ten percent difference in this data when it comes to supporting beneficial parks and recreation initiatives between parents (94 percent) and those who are not parents (84 percent).
The top park and recreation initiatives the public sees as most beneficial to their community include improving local park and recreation outdoor and indoor facilities (e.g., parks, trails, rec centers, sports fields) and updating local park and recreation facilities to be more accessible. There are several youth initiatives found to be beneficial, including increasing sports, other programming and mentoring opportunities for youth. Increasing resources and access to food and nutrition programs is viewed as a benefit.
Lastly, parks and recreation’s role in conservation is seen as a beneficial initiative. This is especially true when it comes to the expansion of conservation and management efforts, expansion of greenbelts and/or greenspaces, and the work being done to increase a community’s climate resiliency through parks (e.g., restoring or increasing wetlands, designing forests or open spaces to help prevent major flood events, planting native plants to support pollinators, creating or expanding urban trees and forests).
Eighty-eight percent of survey respondents indicate it is important that their local park and recreation agency engages directly with them to ensure every community member has access to amenities, infrastructure and programming that meet their specific needs and desires. Whether it is one-on-one conversations, public meetings and/or surveys, the public wants to be a part of the process.
This is especially true for parents. In comparison to those who do not have children (21 percent), 30 percent of parents believe that it is extremely important that their local park and recreation agencies engage directly with the public to ensure equitable access to amenities, infrastructure and programming that meet their needs and desires. In addition, seven percent more parents (37 percent) than non-parents (30 percent) responded that it is very important for park and recreation departments to engage with the people of their municipality.
Furthermore, there seems to be a significant difference between Gen Z and other generations in their opinion of the importance of parks and recreation. While 85 percent of millennials, 82 percent of Gen Xers, and 83 percent of baby boomers say it is important for their local park and recreation departments to engage with the public to assess and provide for their needs and desires, less than three-quarters (74 percent) of Gen Zers feel this way.
As the data reveals, our community members and members of the public are not only users of these facilities and programs, but they truly want to — and should — have a say in their local parks and recreation departments' initiatives. Agencies should lean on their greatest advocates — the public — to help make the case for greater funding and resources on the local, state and federal levels.
More in this series:
- The NRPA Engagement With Parks Report: How It Began
- How Are People Getting to Their Local Parks?
- Proximity To Parks: An Opportunity for Action
Catherine Tepper (she/her) is a research assistant at NRPA.