Bringing Placemaking to Life Through the NRPA Annual Conference

November 18, 2021, Department, by Kristine Stratton

Kristine Stratton 410

For an enhanced digital experience, read this story in the ezine.

It’s the end of the calendar year and I am reflecting back on 2021 and our work together. This year presented many challenges on top of a very difficult 2020, but also it provided cause for celebration. The fact that we were able to gather, in person and online, for the 2021 NRPA Annual Conference was a source of great joy for me and the NRPA board and staff. And, we were joined in that sentiment by exhibitors and attendees alike in Nashville, Tennessee. I kept hearing attendees say that “it just felt good to be together.” It should come as no surprise, as that is the crux of what we do in parks and recreation — bring people together — placemaking at its best.

Whether we are managing programs for our agencies’ recreation departments, planning and designing the next park improvement projects, or producing the largest annual conference for park and recreation professionals in the world, we are in the business of placemaking — strengthening the connections between people and the places we share.

The park and recreation response to coronavirus (COVID-19) inspired some tremendously creative placemaking approaches. We covered many of these ideas in this magazine, on our website, and in both our 2020 virtual and 2021 hybrid conferences. There are still more opportunities for us to build on that creativity and engage all our community members in our shared spaces and programs.

One helpful resource came out around the same time as our NRPA conference. This year, 8 80 Cities, in partnership with AARP, released its Winter Placemaking Guide. This is the latest resource in its Parks and Public Spaces Collection. The collection offers three free guides about developing and managing outdoor places for people of all ages. As 8 80 Cities likes to say, “if everything we do in our public spaces is great for an 8-year-old and an 80-year-old, then it will be great for all people.” In our quest to promote programs and places that are truly great for all people, we continue to emphasize the critical importance of equity, inclusion and access and offer ideas, resources and tools that help us deliver on that goal.

Speaking of resources, the 2021 NRPA Annual Conference virtual sessions are still available for viewing until December 31. While there are too many to list here, following are three that reinforce the idea of placemaking:

“Parks in Process: Creating Learning Landscapes That Have Educational, Social and Civic Impact.” This transformative session features Shawn Lani, director of The Studio for Public Spaces at San Francisco’s Exploratorium, and explores the work of combining placemaking and science-based learning with San Francisco Recreation and Parks.

“How to Involve Individuals With Physical Disabilities in Your Recreation Programming” is an informative speed session with practical tips, featuring Dr. Margaret Stran from University of Alabama Adapted Athletics.

“Genius or Insanity? Three Proven Examples of Why It’s Worth the Effort to Build Engaging, Meaningful and Inclusive Cross-Park Programs” is an entertaining session with Anne Arundel County (Maryland) Recreation and Parks Naturalist Liana Vitali and Park Rangers Dave Burman and Victor Jones.

These are just a few examples, so I encourage you to explore all the coffee talks, speed sessions, education sessions and keynote speakers for more ideas on how placemaking and efforts to create inclusive, welcoming and engaging spaces are happening across the country.

As always, thank you for all that you do to advance effective parks and recreation in your communities.

In gratitude,
Kristine Stratton, NRPA President and CEO