Looking Toward the Future of Parks and Recreation

September 28, 2023, Department, by Carolyn F. McKnight Fredd

Carolyn McKnight Fredd 2023 410

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Serving as chair of the NRPA Board of Directors has been one of the highest honors of my career. During my time in this role, NRPA and park and recreation professionals across the country sought to use the full power of parks and recreation to build healthy, strong, vibrant and resilient communities for all. We facilitated sound, impactful and transformative solutions and held firmly to the underlying perspective that our profession offers tremendous value by equitably connecting people to each other and to recreation spaces. These connections support social and emotional wellness by creating a sense of belonging and significance, uniting community members with diverse cultural, language and spiritual backgrounds.

I am extremely proud of several achievements NRPA reached during the past two years. As the voice of the profession, NRPA provided nearly 4,000 new certifications to professionals and approximately 30,000 second-to-none online and in-person education and training opportunities. More than 200 agencies achieved agency accreditation to demonstrate their compliance with best management practices. Through support, advocacy and assistance, we helped communities secure more than $4.8 million in investments to support the work of local park and recreation agencies. We partnered with park and recreation agencies to create and maintain places and spaces for more than 275 million visitors to enjoy, where they can recharge and heal from societal and climate challenges. Our work assisted agencies in creating more than $218 billion in economic activity and creating and sustaining more than 1.3 million jobs.

Our diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) journey helped us understand how community change agents work to remedy historical and present-day trauma, from ensuring there are quality spaces and places within a 10-minute walk from all residences to addressing sports-related injuries and budget challenges. We helped park and recreation professionals address issues, such as managing the impacts of climate change, combating childhood obesity, providing creative responses to loneliness and isolation, and developing better, more holistic wellness management opportunities. We responded to the most significant public health challenge, the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, by providing outdoor spaces for disease management and overall wellness.

Parks and recreation provided solutions to virtually every obstacle our communities faced while elevating job readiness and workforce development during this global health crisis. As we look toward the future, we will be challenged to elevate programs and opportunities that drive impactful, transformative and equitable solutions to help communities thrive. We will work to create an abundant life for all, including those who have been historically disadvantaged and disinvested.

Some of the most impactful lessons learned during my time as chair are:

  • We cannot predict the future, but we must plan for disruptions, like future pandemics, changes in national political ideologies, climate change and more.
  • We must continue to advocate for support and resources at all levels of government and in the business and private sectors.
  • We must continue to reach out and elevate best practices and innovations to strengthen the work in the field.
  • We must begin to consider how artificial intelligence and other technological innovations will impact our work.
  • We must know that whatever is impacting marginalized communities impacts us all, and we have a very essential and significant piece of the solution.
  • We must actively engage our state affiliates, business partners, thought leaders and partners to advocate for and advance the work in every community, large and small.
  • We must continue to grow our understanding of DEI by keeping an open mind and making a genuine commitment to align our words with affirmative and positive steps and initiatives.
  • We must take mental health seriously and lead with fairness and respect while centering equity.
  • We must know when to take a recess and play, so we can bring our highest and best selves to help others.

Thank you for your support and for all you do to make our communities equitable, fun, resilient and whole.

Carolyn F. McKnight Fredd is Chair of the NRPA Board of Directors.