Developing Healthier, Safer, More Prosperous Communities

April 5, 2019, Department, by Jack Kardys

Jack Kardys 410

So, how did the concept of parks as agents of adaptation and community resilience take root in today’s challenge to adapt to climate change? Most of us remember the Benefits-Based Programming (BBP) model, where the primary objective for our afterschool programming was the development of resilient children by improving their health, self-confidence, self-efficacy, optimism, coping ability, personal responsibility and goals orientation. We learned to build programs around these outcomes and measure success, equipping generations with a set of skills that are inevitably reflected in how they organize and live their lives as good, productive citizens.

According to psychologists, resilience is what gives people the psychological strength to cope with uncertainty, stress and hardship. It is the mental reservoir of strength that people can tap into to carry them through certain difficulties without falling apart. Resilient individuals are better able to handle such adversity and rebuild their lives after a catastrophe. So too are resilient communities, which are more likely to survive and thrive in the face of the impacts and natural disasters triggered by climate change. In the wake of traumas, such as terrorist attacks, hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, droughts and wildfires, many individuals and communities, especially those with resiliency and emergency management protocols, demonstrate resilient behaviors.

Resilience, in the changing paradigm of our profession, refers to the ability of a park-centric public realm to stand up to shocks or changes from climate change and maintain an acceptable level of function and performance using a variety of green infrastructure interventions. Similarly, adaptation refers to adjustments to limit the negative effects, or to take advantage of the positive effects, of climate change. Resilience and adaptation measures may include changes to our green spaces, the built environment, restructuring financing and insurance instruments and reorganizing social networks.

NRPA’s Resource Guide for Planning, Designing and Implementing Green Infrastructure in Parks describes parks as providing “ideal opportunities…as they are often already highly visible, multifunctional public spaces that typically include green elements. Combining green stormwater infrastructure into park retrofits and new park development with a goal of increasing social equity can help ensure that open space is used to its full potential.” These high-performance landscapes and park facilities, designed as green infrastructure, provide the maximum amount of co-benefits to communities in the form of health gains through recreation, economic growth, flood, fire and drought mitigation, education, social empathy, improved water and air quality, heat island mitigation, stress relief and relaxation, wildlife habitat, green jobs and post-disaster centers for relief and community organizing.

As park professionals, we should recognize that the interconnectivity of climate resilience, climate change, adaptability and vulnerability require social, economic, technological and political strategies that must be implemented in all sectors of our communities. To that end, NRPA’s best practices for green infrastructure include site design with multidisciplinary teams, listening to and empowering the community, understanding and communicating the benefits, designing for equity and inclusivity, planning for connectivity and accessibility, and ensuring projects are biddable and buildable. Constructing walkable cities with energy-efficient buildings and integrating natural ecosystems with high-performance landscapes serving as green infrastructure are strategies park professionals must deploy to develop healthier, safer, more prosperous communities.

Jack Kardys is NRPA's Chair of the Board of Directors.