NRPA Vice President of Research, Kevin Roth, just joined the NRPA team at the end of June, bringing a fresh perspective to how we collect and disseminate data, as well as the role data can play in supporting our field. With a background in economics, including a Ph.D. in the discipline from George Washington University, this Maryland native doesn’t believe in “conducting research just for the sake of research.” Instead, Roth intends to use data to tell stories that illustrate how valuable parks and recreation is to communities across the world. We recently caught up with Roth to learn more about his perspective on data and the NRPA research team, as well as his passions outside the office.
Parks & Recreation magazine: Why do you feel research and data are so important to our field?
Kevin Roth: Research, data and knowledge can inform critical decision making, whether it is making the case for new capital expenditures, how to program a facility or how to tell the story of why parks and recreation is an essential part of the community. In my short time here, I have seen the passion NRPA’s members have for their profession. Thought leadership developed from NRPA research is one way we can convey this passion to policymakers and the public.
P&R: You earned your Ph.D. in economics — talk about that discipline as it relates to parks and recreation. Should agencies be thinking differently about the economics of both the country at large and their own operations? If so, what should the focus be and why?
Roth: Governments at the local, state and national level all face budgetary challenges that have only grown since the last recession. As a result, our members are challenged to do more with less. But, at the same time, we know from our own research and from talking to park and recreation users that they highly value what our members provide. Whether an agency’s budget is large or small, it provides tremendous value to its community in the form of higher property values, creation of economic activity and adding to the standard of living, among other things. This is helpful as [parks and recreation has] a great economic story to tell the policymakers who set their budgets.
P&R: What’s your favorite recreational activity?
Roth: Walking outdoors. In addition to whatever workout I may do in the morning, I take an hour walk every evening after dinner. Fortunately, my town has a great system of sidewalks and park trails that allow me to safely walk as I decompress for the evening. On weekends, these walks often take two or three hours. And when I travel for work or pleasure, I always have a pair of comfortable walking shoes so I can explore the town I am visiting.
P&R: Rumor has it you’re an avid “Simpsons” fan — which of the following characters would you most like to be for a day and why: Homer Simpson, Lisa Simpson, Krusty the Clown, Comic Book Guy, Professor Fink or Monty Burns?
Roth: What gives that away?! The fact that my daughter and cats have all been named after Simpson characters? This is a tough question as they each have their good points (perhaps Monty Burns being the exception), yet all are quirky. But there is something compelling about Homer. He is living a full life, surrounded by friends and family who forgive him despite his many foibles. Everyone loves him…well, everyone except for Frank Grimes.
Samantha Bartram is the Executive Editor of Parks & Recreation magazine.