I’m a Parks Kid! I grew up at Florida’s Haulover Beach Park, boating, fishing, diving, and I played just about every sport on every ballfield in Miami-Dade County. These experiences defined me and are where my memories and character developed. All it took was a parks internship to hook me, for life, in this profession.
So, after 38 years in the business, here’s some of what I’ve learned: As park professionals, we are far more sophisticated than bats, balls and babysitting for afterschool programs. We plan, build, operate, program and maintain our nation’s community and regional park systems! We are the creators and keepers of the experience that happens when people are in public spaces.
Parks represent fairness, access, inclusion and social equity — no matter race, color, creed, age, ability or disability — and that is an enormously noble venture. They are not only destinations; they’re also a metaphor for healthy, happy and prosperous communities. They are great public/civic spaces, natural and cultural areas, greenways, blueways, trails and complete streets that connect it all together.
Nationwide, operations and capital spending for local parks alone generates more than $154 billion in annual economic activity and supports more than 1.1 million jobs. More than 85 studies link parks to better physical, mental and spiritual health and well-being that significantly increase our life expectancy.
Yet, no other government function has been as undervalued and underfunded as parks and recreation! The Penn State Study shows the steady decline in park funding over the past 10 years; in some cases, more than 20 percent less than our police and fire rescue counterparts. We know that for every kid police and fire rescues, we save 99 through prevention programs, coaching and mentoring. So, where is our recognition? As Florida Recreation and Park Association’s past chair Joan Byrne says, we need to stop needing to be liked and start demanding the respect we deserve for the impact we make!
To that end, and in addition to continuing to represent member interests through innovation, education and support, NRPA should further leverage three strategies: Collaborating, partnering and further developing a nationwide park movement that builds on the 10-Minute Walk Campaign underway with TPL and ULI, and focusing on creating resilient park districts with secure, dedicated funding streams. And we can do this by building coalitions and developing campaign tactics and marketing messages that elevate the aspirations of every citizen to increase park advocacy.
We should own the voices of our pillars, taking deeper dives into research and equipping each of you with the data you need, especially in the areas of resiliency, urban revitalization and economic impact.
We will build our philanthropic capacity to provide you with the resources needed to sustain this nationwide parks movement.
NRPA is a force multiplier. No one has more boots on the ground or more impact than you, our members, and it is NRPA’s job to equip you in this movement. So, in the words of Chicago’s Daniel Burnham, “Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men’s blood and probably themselves will not be realized. Make big plans, aim high in hope and work….” NRPA will keep us all thinking big and equipping us to deliver great results!
Jack Kardys is NRPA’s Chair of the Board of Directors.