COVID-19 and Parks and Recreation: One Year Later

April 15, 2021, Department, by Jennifer Cox

2021 May We Are P R COVID 19 and Parks and Recreation One Year Later 410

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In the midst of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, a racial justice movement, growing economic pressures, health crises and devastating impacts of climate change, park and recreation professionals are continuing to serve their communities by maintaining essential infrastructure and providing innovative and vital programming. They also stepped into new roles to protect, strengthen and heal their communities. During the past year, local agencies scaled up childcare programs and learning centers, offered shelter to people without housing, managed food distribution programs, served as testing and vaccine distribution sites and coordinated disaster response — all while maintaining critical infrastructure that promotes physical and mental health and a healthy environment. COVID-19 continues to highlight what has been true for many years: parks and recreation is vital to ensuring that all people — no matter their race, ethnicity, income, age, location or gender identity — thrive.

To document the essential role of parks and recreation and advocate for necessary and sustained investment, NRPA developed a suite of resources to provide elected officials, park and recreation professionals, and partners with a clear pathway to advance climate-readiness, equity and overall well-being through parks and recreation. Informed by NRPA research, a roundtable with mayors from cities across the country, NRPA’s monthly Urban Leaders Convening, and interviews with park and recreation professionals, the following resources were developed:

COVID-19 and Parks and Recreation: Response and Recovery showcases the role parks and recreation played and continues to play throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, demonstrates its impact on local agencies, and highlights policy changes to support investment in parks and recreation.

COVID-19 and Parks and Recreation: Making the Case for the Future is a communications toolkit that provides key messaging, strategies and template graphics to equip park and recreation professionals and advocates with the knowledge and tools to communicate about the essential role parks and recreation has in the well-being of communities.

NRPA continues to advocate for policies and funding that benefit parks and recreation — we garner the support of members of Congress, elected officials and like-minded organizations, and we are equipping park and recreation professionals with the tools to do the same at the local and state level. The communications toolkit showcases data and critical statistics about the national-level park and recreation mission to provide essential services, but the messaging, graphics and stories should be tailored to each community and COVID-19 response. We recognize that many of these roles extend well beyond the response of COVID-19 — this toolkit was designed to showcase that both every day and in crises parks and recreation is essential.

As we look toward a post-COVID-19 future, it is critical that parks and recreation continues its role as a catalyst for equity, climate-readiness and overall well-being, as well as an advocate for increased support of these vital systems. Indeed, NRPA envisions a future in which the full power of parks and recreation will be recognized and utilized to create a better life for all people. 

Jenny Cox is NRPA's Conservation Program Manager.