Boom or Bust?

January 1, 2015, Department, by Gina Mullins-Cohen

Gina Mullins-Cohen, NRPA's Vice President of Marketing, Communications and Publishing, and Editorial Director.The new $70 million recreation center in Williston, North Dakota, is a vast construction, marked by the clean, swift lines identifiable to some of the most progressive architectural designs in the country. Bamboo flooring weaves through the hallways and weathered industrialized steel panels the walls and stairways, saluting the industry that made this grand structure possible — the oil industry. There is even a splashpark for children with water gushing from an oil rig instead of Bakken crude. Times appear good, but will they continue to get better? It is hard to say with our nation’s ever-changing perspective on the oil and gas industry.

While Williston and other towns garner national media attention regarding the financial benefits of such growth, often the ill effects of these impulsive economic drivers seem to go unnoticed. Running parallel to the coveted growth of boom-time situations, one often finds hardships and privation. 

Unprepared for the thousands of job seekers moving into the area, the small town of Williston saw immense population growth during the span of a few years. This sudden growth brought gain but also challenges, such as an increase in the homeless population. 

Jessica Culverhouse, NRPA’s senior manager of fundraising, examines the ability of park and recreation agencies to survive radically changing economic times. Culverhouse profiles two distinctly different towns with prospering park and recreation agencies: Kissimmee, Florida, and Williston, North Dakota. Both towns have struggled and both have prospered, but the turbulent economy of a town or even our country aside, the sustainability of these ventures comes with strong business-minded leadership.

Reasoning for development of park and recreation amenities in any economic climate is also acknowledged by David Barth, a principal at the large design firm AECOM, in our June 2014 feature “Thinking Beyond the Borders.” Barth recalls the example of Kissimmee, where a $30 million renovation of a waterfront park was undertaken during The Great Recession specifically as an economic development initiative. “When the people asked Kissimmee Mayor Jim Swan why, in the middle of a recession, the city would spend substantial funds on a parks project, the mayor said, ‘Because we’re in a recession,’” Barth shares. The result has been that people find the park and then they find downtown. In essence, both entities are bigger draws, which contributes to Kissimmee as a whole.

If you have a similar story or you’d like to comment on this one, contact us. The conversation is open and we want to hear from you.

Gina Mullins-Cohen is NRPA's Vice President of Marketing, Communications and Publishing, and Editorial Director.