Parks and Recreation Powers Resilience and Sustainability

March 28, 2024, Department, by Jesús Aguirre

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With the return of spring, we find our communities eager to embrace warmer days by recreating outdoors. Now is an excellent time to remind community members just how critical parks and recreation is to our mental and physical health. Park and recreation agencies foster social connection, provide opportunities for exercise and stress relief, and support equitable food access, among other positive impacts. While emphasizing these benefits, let us also consider how we, as stewards of parks and green spaces, can take action to protect these resources for future generations.

I encourage you to consider opportunities to advance sustainability and conservation in your programming, park design and operations. Nationwide, park and recreation agencies act as leaders in conservation education and sustainable operations, integrating green practices into our programs and prioritizing climate-resilient practices in our work. The collaborative spirit of our park and recreation community creates many opportunities for park and recreation professionals to connect and share ideas, and I hope you will embrace opportunities to exchange strategies for advancing conservation with colleagues to create a greener future.

Earth Day, recognized annually on April 22, provides a unique opportunity to demonstrate to our communities how park and recreation agencies act as leaders in conservation and sustainability. Discover how park and recreation agencies across the nation are celebrating Earth Day in the article, “Parks and Recreation Celebrates Earth Day 2024,” on page 14. Each community plans to create a unique celebration that highlights their efforts to advance conservation in their localities. Park and recreation agencies are engaging their community members in conservation by demonstrating green technology, planting trees, hosting gardening and composting classes, showcasing green space and more.

What’s more, we can build conservation and sustainability into the foundation of our parks and facilities through climate-resilient design. Unfortunately, the wide-ranging effects of climate change, such as increased wildfires, flooding, damaging storms and more, are impacting our communities today. The article, “Dynamic Park Design,” by Gracie Swansburg on page 44, explores how cities can not only utilize climate-resilient design principles to protect parks from the impacts of climate change, but also use these features as educational tools. Swansburg explores resilient design features used in Boston’s Langone Park, Puopolo Playground and Lincoln Park. When upgrading Lincoln Park, for instance, the design team collaborated with a nearby elementary school to create interactive, educational amenities — including teaching gardens, an outdoor classroom and rainwater harvesting infrastructure. Lincoln Park and Langone Park and Puopolo Playground demonstrate how local communities can anticipate and mitigate the effects of climate change, while advancing the role of climate-resilient design and development practices, says Swansburg. Park and recreation agencies can reference these examples when taking on design or redesign projects in their local parks and facilities to elevate climate resilience and conservation education in pursuit of a more sustainable future for all.

Jesús Aguirre is Chair of the NRPA Board of Directors.