What Will the ‘New Normal’ Look Like in 2021?

December 17, 2020, Department, by Vitisia “VI” Paynich

Vi Paynich 410

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For the past 10 months, terms like “social distancing,” “shelter in place” and “new normal” have been infused into our daily lexicon. And while we begin a new year with a record number of coronavirus (COVID-19) cases in the United States, we may start to see that speck of light at the end of the tunnel. Healthcare officials express cautious optimism about multiple COVID-19 vaccines, but also stress that their rollout depends on a multitiered approach — along with great patience and cooperation among the U.S. population. It also requires all of us to help mitigate the spread of the disease by physical distancing, wearing masks and washing our hands. While it is clear that park and recreation agencies across the country have been forced to alter their operational practices during this global pandemic and subsequent economic recession, what’s not clear is what the “new normal” will look like for the field in 2021.

Richard J. Dolesh, Parks & Recreation magazine’s editor at large, explores this in the cover story, “Top Trends in Parks and Recreation 2021,” on page 34. “COVID-19 has affected nearly everything we do in parks and recreation, and the effects will reverberate for a long time after we have defeated the virus,” Dolesh writes. “Changes to work programs, such as working remotely as a standard practice; participating in virtual learning, training and meetings; and contactless transactions will continue post-pandemic.” In addition, he addresses the impact technology will continue to have on the P&R profession, especially when it comes to serving and connecting with community members.

One trend that will no doubt continue well beyond the pandemic is the public’s need and appreciation for parks and green spaces. In the feature article, “Restoring the Beauty of Pracht Wetlands Park,” on page 40, contributor Gentry Thiesen shares how City of Wichita (Kansas) Park and Recreation, along with its partners, brought this once threatened habitat and preserve back to life. According to Thiesen, “The goals determined through master planning [of the park] very closely mirrored those set by the original task force: to preserve the wetland environment and develop an educational site, accommodate future development in the area by improving stormwater retention, and mitigating the loss of future wetlands through a careful, deliberate development of the site.”

Lastly, the magazine’s editorial team provides an in-depth look at NRPA’s first-ever virtual conference in the article, “Highlights from the 2020 NRPA Annual Conference: A Virtual Experience,” on page 46. Online attendees had an opportunity to not only attend the live broadcast of our daily general sessions, but also could select education sessions from a plethora of tracks, such as health and wellness, equity and inclusion, planning, design and maintenance, and conservation, to name a few. What’s more, the editors highlight the National Gold Medal Award Program’s Finalist Award honorees and Grand Plaque recipients for 2020, as well as winners of the 2020 Best of the Best Awards.

Not unlike your own park and recreation agencies, NRPA also remains hopeful that we will be able to regain some semblance of “normal practice,” in the near future. What will parks and recreation look like in a post-pandemic world? Perhaps it will look like a union of pre- and post-pandemic best practices that ultimately creates a stronger, more equitable field — one that carries P&R professionals into the next chapter and beyond.

VITISIA “VI” PAYNICH
Executive Editor
Print and Online Content