From the Director’s Chair

October 1, 2016, Department, by Samantha Bartram

Innovation is today’s watchword, and leaders in the park and recreation space know they have just as much to gain by staying ahead of the curve as do their counterparts in tech or public health. At NRPA, Conference season is a particularly useful time to examine trends in our field, as thousands of park and recreation professionals gather to discuss what’s on the cutting edge, and what’s right over the horizon. This month, we’re talking trends with directors from this year’s Conference host city, St. Louis, as well as hosts for the 2017 and 2018 event, New Orleans and Indianapolis. We asked Gary Bess, director of the St. Louis County Parks and Recreation Department; Victor N. Richard, III, CEO of the New Orleans Recreation Development Commission; and Linda Broadfoot, director of Indy Parks and Recreation, the following question: What do you see as the most prominent trend in today’s park and recreation field? Below are their responses.

Gary Bess

When I entered parks and recreation full time in 1974, many of the 90 municipalities within St. Louis County’s borders did not exist and few provided well-established leisure services. During the past 40 years, municipalities, communities and neighborhoods have established programs and built facilities to meet their specific needs.

The challenge to park professionals today is to recognize this trend when planning facilities and programs and work to make sure we are not duplicating services, but complementing the efforts of our neighbors while still meeting the desires of local residents.

Recognizing the combined wealth of park and recreation facilities within our region and the need to connect our county to other parts of the area, voters overwhelmingly approved the formation of Great Rivers Greenway to connect our parks and region with linear trails and greenways, as well as assist local municipalities and the county by providing funds for trails and greenways within their jurisdictions.

Victor N. Richard, III

To keep par with what I see as the most prominent trend in today’s park and recreation field, the city of New Orleans/New Orleans Recreation Development Commission (NORDC), in conjunction with the New Orleans Recreation Development Foundation (NORDF), made a more than $120,000 investment in the acquisition of the RecTrac, MainTrac and WebTrac modules from Vermont Systems, Inc. in 2014. These programs have significantly advanced the data collection, monitoring and reporting sophistication of all recreation and facility use operations of NORDC.

With the implementation of these recreation management modules, the intentionality behind our public engagement has been enhanced. Additionally, these technological investments have created a streamlined mechanism by which facility utilization can be maximized. It is critically important to be able to publically present high-quality, sophisticated data that continues to emerge via the ongoing institutionalization of NORDC. As cities across the country face ongoing funding constraints for myriad reasons, public recreation operators are challenged to continually justify the importance and validity of public recreation. Investing in advanced recreation management software allows for the return on investment (ROI) of tax dollars to be routinely reported in a manner that is easily understood by the community at large. Lastly, community members consistently desire information that demonstrates strategy behind decisions, purpose behind programming and connectivity to the community behind partnerships. 

Data, data, data is the emerging trend and the sooner we collectively “get on the bus,” the better it will be for public recreation across the United States.  

Linda Broadfoot

The trend I see that heartens me the most involves the increasing role that parks play in cities’ quality-of-life efforts. In times of economic decline, it’s unfortunately easy to shift the focus away from parks, trails and recreation. That shift is being reversed. Government and corporate leaders are looking to parks as a vital quality-of-life tool in their communities. They recognize that our services, programs and events encourage residents to be healthier and more engaged. Parks most definitely foster community and economic development. 

In Indianapolis, our new mayor has continued to stand up and act as a champion for parks. And, there are a number of housing and community efforts reaching out to Indy Parks to augment their plans. 

Our parks and programs are also crucial public safety tools. Police officers are now offering a variety of programming at our family centers, helping to better connect them to our customers and services. Through this effort, we are combining resources with law enforcement to accomplish key goals, which in turn contributes to stronger cities and towns. 

All of these attributes are obvious to us who work in parks and recreation. But it’s up to us to remind everyone that our work is more than just fun. We are necessary components of healthy and vibrant communities. 

Samantha Bartram, Executive Editor of Parks & Recreation magazine