Reimagining Parks, Health and an Entire Small Town

May 21, 2020, Department, by Scott Ward

2020 June We Are Parks and Rec Reimagining Parks Small Town 410

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College Park in Winchester, Kentucky, was in desperate need of repair. Among other challenges, the 20-year-old facility featured wooden structures that could no longer be serviced and a playground that was not accessible to children of all abilities. Evaluating the state of this single park within an aging system pinpointed the need to revisit the city’s outdated park master plan. This led to a rethinking of the parks at a system-wide level, which is helping transform the small town on the edge of Eastern Kentucky.

Change came through conversations among a group of representatives from the Clark County Activity Coalition, which helped secure a grant from the National Recreation and Park Association to aid the park improvement process. The coalition was born out of a report that identified obesity as one of several major health concerns, leading to the formation of a health-focused community group to expand wellness programming. Today, the coalition includes the park and recreation department, health department, hospital, city planning department, a local private foundation and representatives from Winchester’s health- and fitness-focused businesses.

“Our connection with the Activity Coalition really helped us envision things through a health and equity lens,” says Deborah Jackson, director of programming and marketing for Winchester-Clark County Parks and Recreation. “Did we have quality parks available to every neighborhood? If not, why not? And, how do we effectively engage with residents?”

The outcome was the first parks master planning process in nearly two decades, which became a vital component of the redevelopment of the whole city. “Creating a healthy community is a key part of our vision of the Winchester we want to be — a growing, vibrant place that serves current residents and attracts new ones,” Jackson says. The process has sparked a new way of considering the very notion of parks. The city is working with the community to re-examine the current amenities, including playgrounds and ball fields, and imagining a future park system with interconnected spaces, free imaginative play and myriad healthy outdoor activities that provide broader access to all of Winchester’s residents.

“In the end, our collaborative approach is helping garner more use of the parks and encouraging greater support, both in the community and at City Hall,” Jackson says. “What started with a conversation about our park system is really helping to reimagine Winchester.”

The Joint Call to Action to Promote Healthy Communities
Projects and initiatives related to health and health equity in the built environment often start with a conversation between individuals or among small groups. It may be a formal convening led by a foundation or city agency, a workshop at a convention or even coffee between colleagues.

The Joint Call to Action to Promote Healthy Communities is engaged in a year-long effort to spur these conversations among our members and beyond. We’ve compiled stories about discussions that have led to healthy solutions at the community, regional and state levels. To learn more about the Joint Call to Action, how Winchester started its conversation and learn about other conversations, visit the NRPA Healthy Communities webpage.

Scott Ward is Principal at Fifth Estate Communications.