From the Director’s Chair

September 1, 2016, Department, by Samantha Bartram

This month, Parks & Recreation magazine highlights one of NRPA’s Three Pillars: Social Equity. Often distinguished as the most difficult to pin down of its brethren — Health and Wellness and Conservation — the Social Equity Pillar seeks to solidify concepts of access, fairness, allyship and cultural sensitivity. As NRPA continues to refine its definition and application of the concept of social equity, it is fitting to inquire how our member agencies are grappling with the term. This month, we asked Happy Haynes, executive director of Denver, Colorado, Parks and Recreation; Michele K. Nekota, director of the Honolulu, Hawaii, Department of Parks and Recreation; and Brian S. Albright, CPRE, director of the County of San Diego, California, Department of Parks and Recreation the following question: How does your agency address equity concerns when it comes to programmatic content and access? Below are their replies.

Happy Haynes

The principle of equity is a key cornerstone of our vision and mission for Denver Parks and Recreation (DPR). From planning to budget allocations and hiring to policies, we try to incorporate the principle of equity in everything we do. As we strive to provide high-quality programs and services to all Denver residents, we use an equity lens that requires us to ask who we might have missed, who may not be able to afford the services or who may struggle with access to our facilities and programs. 

Community voice is the beginning point for addressing equity concerns — it all starts with listening to our community and engaging them in multiple ways about our services, projects and programs. Collecting data and analyzing community impacts are also important in addressing disparities and gaps in service. 

MY Denver Card leveled the playing field for children in our city. Regardless of where they live or how much money their parents make, all children in Denver have free access to recreation centers and programming. The hiring process is another key component of our equity and diversity agenda. DPR has worked diligently with our human resources partners to build a diverse workforce that reflects the community. For example, our department participated in a pilot program aimed at providing opportunities for homeless individuals to be engaged in meaningful work that could lead to permanent employment. 

We provide financial assistance for individuals who lack the capacity to pay for services and programming or regulatory fees and fines. In our budgeting decisions, underserved communities are always at the top of the priority list. Internally and externally, we are putting a stake in the ground and letting people know that issues of equity are important to us.

Michele K. Nekota

The Honolulu Department of Parks and Recreation provides a wide range of parks and recreational opportunities that are accessible, enjoyable, meaningful and safe. Ensuring equal access to our programs, facilities and natural environment is absolutely paramount to our department here in Honolulu. For instance, the use of our beautiful beach campgrounds is permitted via an equitable process that can be completed online or in person.

The communities here on O`ahu are some of the most vibrant and diverse in the world with a wonderful mix of cultures that encompass the “Aloha Spirit.” As such, we strive to offer a wide variety of sports and recreational and cultural activities to fit the growing needs of our communities.  

A vast majority of those programs are either free of charge or extremely affordable. We just hosted our 76th Annual Nā Hula Festival, which showcases the beauty and grace of our native dance and is free to the public. Every summer we also host more than 10,000 keiki (children) in our Summer Fun program at 63 sites island-wide. The six-week program costs only $25 per child and is free for families receiving financial aid. 

Additionally, we strive for fairness when it comes to providing equal opportunity for our businesses to flourish. Tourism is by far our most important economic sector, and we understand that our island’s natural beauty and the hospitality of its people are what drives this market. Thus, we provide opportunities for our businesses to coexist with our parks, such as allowing farmers to sell their goods at our People’s Open Markets.

Brian S. Albright, CPRE

This August we celebrated the 70th anniversary of our department and our mission to enhance the quality of life in San Diego County for people of all ages and abilities. We’re home to a rich tapestry of cultures and our land encompasses everything from the coast to the desert and the valleys to the mountains. Understanding there is no one-size-fits-all approach to park improvements or program offerings is integral to our success as an agency.

Factors like ability, environment, background and life experience play a role in what we feel is key to our well-being. Each of us is shaped by a unique set of circumstances and that affects our perception. Acknowledging these differences, and viewing variations as opportunities for advancement, brings us closer to becoming a best-in-class park and recreation agency.

This was a focal point in our 2015 needs assessment survey. Results told us “quality of life” was very important to almost all of our respondents, but ways to achieve this varied by individual. A deeper dive looked at indicators like age, race and ZIP code. We combined this information with findings from the county’s Live Well initiative, which measured well-being through the following filters: quality of life, life expectancy, education, unemployment rate, income, security, physical environment, built environment, vulnerable populations and community involvement. Data gleaned from this research helps us to prioritize existing projects and to evaluate our mix of programs and offerings to ensure they are in-line with true community need. A plan to boost accessibility and ADA compliance compliments these findings to ensure benefits are available to all park patrons. 

Samantha Bartram,Executive Editor of Parks & Recreation magazine