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The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic proved to be a generational community disrupter. Regarding local government service delivery, arguably, no department was as intrinsically altered as parks and recreation. With communities instructed to shelter in place and administrative leaders diversified in a remote work environment, park and recreation teams’ reliable in-person and on-site workflow model was wholly interrupted. It also was revitalized — by technology.
Three years post-pandemic onset, we’ve both recovered and adapted. Once again, our ballfields are full of tiny cleats and celebratory chants, but online yoga and virtual heritage celebrations are now permanent parts of community activity catalogs. What follows are four of the most impactful ways park and recreation leaders now use technology to strengthen their communities through meaningful connections.
Leveraging Snapchat to Promote Local Events
Gen Z and millennial Snapchat users share a common personality trait: they regularly experience what experts refer to as FOMO (fear of missing out). It is a social perspective that motivates young social media users to attend social events because they don’t want to be the only ones from their network not in attendance (and not sharing snaps). By promoting events to a FOMO-motivated youth network, park and recreation leaders are embracing the ideal platform to connect young people with like-minded peers.
The Wi-Fi Enabled Smart Park
Smart parks allow digitally tethered residents (both adults and children) to remain connected to their critical applications while benefiting from being outdoors by providing easily accessible Wi-Fi. In this way, it removes barriers for those who want in-person socialization but also want access to their messaging apps, streaming digital music services and social media platforms. Municipalities are benefitting from higher park attendance and community engagement by investing in smart parks. As a bonus, connected visitors share and post photos, videos and messages from their time at the park to social followers, serving as free marketing.
Digital Kiosks and Mobile Apps
Some smart parks also offer on-site digital displays and mobile apps that promote park and facility features and allow people to easily register for upcoming events and activities while such offerings are top of mind. Such park kiosks and apps also can serve as adolescent education tools and help younger generations learn to appreciate the history and evolution of their community. Consider interactive displays and apps that walk users through the history of your community, provide fun facts about local plants and animals, and offer interactive games and quizzes that are all relevant to the park in which the user is located.
With COVID-19 temporarily restricting team sports participation and group activities, esports leagues and events have boomed in communities across the country, with the total market value of the esports industry exceeding $1 billion in 2021. This meteoric rise in esports means the chance to bring an engaging, virtual program into your activity catalog that unites gamers of all physical ability levels through technology.
Final Words of Advice
The traditional vision of parks and recreation is evolving as the needs and interests of residents evolve and change. Adopting even a few small technology offerings in your local parks and recreation facilities opens up the potential for greater facility adoption, revenue and engagement with a wide range of generations.
Brian Stapleton is Associate General Manager at CivicPlus®.