The 2015 NRPA Annual Conference was about action. It was about inspiration. It was about urgency. Our Opening General Session keynote speaker, Gil Penalosa, and special guest United States Surgeon General, Vivek Murthy, let us know, in no uncertain terms, that as park and recreation professionals we have a pivotal role in supporting greater health, wellness and equity for the people we serve. “Parks and recreation are the centers of our communities,” Murthy said. “Parks and recreation centers are also centers of health. They build a foundation for a healthier life.”
Because our facilities are, in most cases, free, open and accessible to all members of the public, parks and recreation means increased quality of life is within reach of every American citizen. “Everyone in America deserves a safe place to walk and wheelchair roll,” Murthy continued. He underscored his recent Step It Up! call to action, which implores communities across the country to support smart infrastructure — including safe sidewalks and bike lanes — and, in turn, cultivate a healthier way of life for all residents. “Your work in neighborhoods makes communities more amenable to physical activity,” Murthy said. “More than ever before, we need parks, and we need them now.”
Supporting this heartening call to action was Penalosa’s rapid-fire presentation, which cast our role as park and recreation professionals in a global light. “Parks and recreation is part of the solutions to the world’s greatest problems,” Penalosa said. And not just in terms of lowering obesity and heart disease — Penalosa highlighted park and recreation’s role in leveling the playing field for all communities regardless of race, age, ability or socioeconomic composition. “If you really care about poor people, we must improve the quality of leisure time available to all people,” he said. Penalosa highlighted his 8 80 initiative and the simple test anyone can employ to determine if their neighborhood is walk- and wheelchair-roll friendly. “Think of a child, about 8 years old, that you love,” he said. “Now, think of an 80-year-old that you love. Then ask yourself, would you send them walking or cycling on their own? Would they feel safe? What if our parks, streets and cities had to be great for both 8- and 80-year-olds? Then, it would be great for all people.”
Fifty years after NRPA’s inception, voices like Murthy and Penalosa let us know that parks, recreation and leisure time are not just optional add-ons — they’re essential to our health and well-being. Penalosa told us that, as park and recreation professionals, “We save lives for a living.” In his brief remarks, outgoing NRPA Board Chair Detrick Stanford let us know, “You are innovators.” In her opening comments, NRPA CEO Barbara Tulipane said, “You are the champions.” So, when incoming NRPA Board Chair Susan Trautman asked the thousands of NRPA members in attendance, “What will we do in the next 50 years?” there were doubtless several answers swirling in the collective consciousness.
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