In the nearly two years I have written for Parks and Recreation Magazine, I have written more than 20 interviews and profiles of people who are changing parks and rec—whether in their own town or on the national stage. About a dozen of those individuals do not work as park professionals. They include a hedge fund manager, an urbanologist, a management consultant, two stay-at-home moms, a wedding blogger, an economist, a young artist, and (most recently) a bestselling author of books on modern American culture.
Again and again, in my interviews with thought leaders and in-the-trenches volunteers, I hear comments like the following:
“Our neighborhood was crippled when the park was destroyed.”
“The economic benefits of parks are incalculable.”
“Parks cure isolation.”
“Turning industrial wasteland into green space can transform the economy.”
“Parks are the key to healthy play.”
Each of those interviewees understood the value of parks through his or her distinctive lens. Some are trained to measure economic impact—others are concerned more with immediate quality-of-life enrichment.
But they all share one important view—and I think it’s one that those working in the field need to hear often.
That view transcends mere agreement that parks are valuable. I doubt anyone would argue otherwise. Rather, my interviewees across disciplines all affirm that parks build, bind, and stimulate communities. That open spaces, greenness, and public recreation are essentials, not amenities.
They know that parks heal blight—whether aesthetic, social, or economic.
They observe that parks make our children healthier.
They celebrate the vitality and “connectedness” that only a park can offer.
They cite evidence that good parks draw the best and the brightest to a region.
They recognize that businesses choose to locate in places that attract the best and brightest.
I nearly always conclude these interviews by asking, “What can parks and rec professionals do to help parks in a time of budget cuts?”
And repeatedly I hear the same responses:
“They need to shout out the benefits to elected officials.”
“Show the evidence to anyone who will listen.”
July is Parks and Recreation Month. And this weekend, Memorial Day weekend, marks the beginning of the season of our parks’ greatest public use and enjoyment.
How will you shout out the benefits?
Maureen Hannan is the Senior Editor for Parks & Recreation magazine.