The typical park and recreation agency offers one park for every 2,277 residents served, with 9.9 acres of parkland per 1,000 residents. But park and recreation agencies are as diverse as the communities that they serve, and what works well for one agency may not be best for your agency. Therefore, park and recreation professionals need data to identify the best practices to optimally serve their community.
That is where the 2021 NRPA Agency Performance Review comes in. This report is the most comprehensive resource of data and insights for park and recreation agencies in the United States. The report highlights 25 of the most critical park and recreation metrics collected from the NRPA Park Metrics database.
Each year, NRPA conducts a study exploring the public’s relationship with their local parks. This annual study probes the essential nature of local parks and recreation, including how parks play a role in deciding where to live, the public’s likelihood to vote for local political leaders who make park and recreation funding a priority and how parks, trails and other open spaces are being accessed. The 2020 study also takes a closer look at how people accessed their local parks, trails and open spaces during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, thanks to the hard work of park and recreation professionals.
The Workforce Development and Career Exploration in Park and Recreation report explores the benefits and goals of workforce development and career exploration programs, how these programs are offered at agencies, the role of partners in connecting participants to jobs, and the program-related challenges facing many agencies.
The report highlights the role park and recreation professionals and their agencies play in preparing youth and young adults for their future regardless of whether they continue to work in parks and recreation. Workforce development or career exploration programs expose youth and young adults to a wide range of jobs allowing participants to build self-confidence, gain valuable work experience and develop foundational skills, such as communications and financial literacy.
Park and recreation professionals and their agencies are major providers of both organized and unorganized sports program facilities across the nation. Equity is at the heart of access to youth sports. Studies demonstrate that gender, household formation and income correlate with children’s engagement with organized sports, what sports they may play and how long they engage in those activities. Unfortunately, there are significant disparities in who has access to youth sports opportunities.
The Youth Sports at Park and Recreation Agencies report explores youth sports offerings, partnerships, fees and registration, and equitable access. The report also takes a look at the impact of COVID-19 on youth sports during the summer and fall of 2020.
The majority of the nation’s more than 10,000 park and recreation agencies rely on taxpayer support and generated revenue as their primary funding sources. Unfortunately, the typical agency does not receive sufficient funding to fully deliver on its mission. As a result, many park and recreation agencies partner with nonprofit park foundations or “friends groups” to ensure every community member has access to high-quality park and recreation programming and facilities. Read this report for evidence-based best practices that optimize these relationships and for a detailed snapshot of the benefits and challenges that exist between agency-foundation relationships.
The NRPA Park and Recreation Salary Survey report provides comprehensive salary data and benefit policy details for 10 typical park and recreation positions based on a survey of 470 agencies across the US. The full report also includes sample job descriptions and agency organization charts.
NRPA's Economic Impact of Local Parks Report not only demonstrates that the nation's local parks generate more than $166 billion in economic activity per year and support more than 1.1 million jobs from operations and capital spending alone, but also highlights the significant economic contributions of local parks in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. This report demonstrates that parks are powerful engines of valuable economic activity and deserve support and recognition from elected officials, policymakers and the public.
Cities and towns across the nation are turning to Green Stormwater Infrastructure (GSI) investments to reduce and treat stormwater flooding. These nature-based methods, such as permeable pavement, bioswales, stream restorations or tree canopies, also offer communities many additional health and wellness benefits, opportunities for social cohesion and improved economic prosperity. This report highlights green infrastructure projects at park systems, including issues surrounding funding, stakeholder engagement, and how to measure these investments’ long-term benefits.
The NRPA Park and Recreation Marketing and Communications Report examines the methods and means agencies use to share their vast array of offerings to the community. Getting the word out to the public about what park and recreation agencies do is a great challenge. One solution to this challenge is for agencies to invest in marketing and communications strategies—although accomplishing this is no small feat. Building awareness, boosting revenue and enhancing public support and engagement are key goals for park and recreation marketing and communications strategies. This survey explores the various methods and tactics used to market to community members, the use of partners for greater reach, the role of social media in marketing and communications, typical budgets and number of personnel devoted to this effort, and much more.
The Farmers Markets—Parks and Recreation Connecting Communities to Healthy Foods report explores the role park and recreation agencies play in bringing farmers markets to their communities. The report explores markets’ product and services offerings—spanning from fresh produce and protein to entertainment and educational programming, as well as the organizations that agencies partner with to make their markets successful and the challenges they must overcome.
NRPA’s Awareness and the Use of Parks report explores the role awareness plays in driving park and recreation usage and presents a series of steps that park and recreation leaders should consider when executing an awareness strategy. The report also studies the steps taken by two cutting edge park and recreation agencies to promote greater awareness of their offerings.
NRPA's Out-of-School Time Report, based on the responses from a July 2018 survey of 334 park and recreation agencies, celebrates how OST programs are making a real difference in the lives of their communities’ youth. The study also highlights what more can be done and the obstacles that must be overcome to deliver on these programs fully.
NRPA's Promoting Parks and Recreation's Role in Economic Development report explored the role that quality park amenities play in 21st century regional economic development. Based on conversations with more than 70 park and recreation professionals, economic development practitioners and site-location consultants, this report highlights the important supporting role parks and recreation in recruiting and retaining businesses and skilled workers.
NRPA developed the Parks and Recreation Inclusion Report to provide greater insight into how agencies across the United States ensure that all members of their communities can enjoy parks and recreation. The study also highlights the significant challenges facing the industry in delivering on this promise.
Parks and recreation is predominantly a service provided by local governments and therefore is reliant on financial support from local governments’ general tax funds. However, local governments fund and manage a variety of different public services. This report will help park and recreation professionals understand how local government officials view and prioritize these services. Read more about the study here.
Parks are key community stakeholders when it comes to addressing the effects of climate change. From protecting water resources via green infrastructure practices, to reducing urban heat island effect through city wide forest restoration - parks play a critical role in ensuring that our communities successfully adapt and thrive in light of a rapidly changing planet.
Historically, park and recreation agencies have had a complicated relationship with the homeless community they serve. On one level, public parks are resources for the entire community, providing valuable services to all people. On another level, the prevalence of homeless individuals using park resources can put great pressure on the finite resources of park and recreation agencies. The circumstances of homelessness vary significantly by city, with each park and recreation agency facing a unique set of challenges and holding a unique perspective. As a result, mitigating homelessness cannot be the sole responsibility of one agency or one department within a city. In all, nine out of 10 urban park and recreation agency directors report that their city has tactics and strategies in place to alleviate homelessness in the community.
In recent years, park and recreation professionals have increased their use of data analysis to support decision making. The insights gleaned from data analysis help agencies make informed programming decisions for their facilities, help optimize capital expenditure budgets and support master planning. At the same time, many park and recreation agencies face the daunting challenge of identifying how to best take advantage of the great promise data can bring to their agencies. Based on the feedback of 58 directors from urban park and recreation agencies, this study looks at how park and recreation agencies are embracing data today and to identify the barriers that inhibit greater use of analysis.
Americans cherish their local public park and recreation services, seeing them as valuable features of their communities, towns and cities. In fact, Americans almost unanimously agree that their communities benefit from their local public parks, even if they are not regular park users. This passion for local public parks has gone unabated during the past 25 years even as our nation and the ways we interact and entertain each other have dramatically evolved. Read the study and dig deeper with interactive graphics.
The following reports translate key academic research findings for everyday park and recreation professionals. Included are summaries of more than 70 peer-reviewed research articles published between 2012 and 2017. For each report, you will find a summary of each articles’ key findings, the full reference, contact information of the primary authors and (if available) links to download the full academic articles.
Read more about key academic research findings here.
Parks and recreation agencies have historically been closely aligned with the goals of active transportation principles, as well as playing an important role in the development and management of active transportation infrastructure. It is difficult to imagine a truly comprehensive active transportation network that is not touched by a park and recreation agency, and in many cases parks and recreation agencies are the primary providers of active transportation-related services. Through active transportation, parks and recreation agencies provide valuable benefits to communities by providing an engine for economic development, increasing health and wellbeing, supporting conservation and providing benefits to all advocates regardless of socioeconomic status. Download Active Transportation and Parks and Recreation.
Access to parks increases one's level of physical activity, therefore parks are an important destination that should be easily accessible to all advocates. This report explores the obstacles limiting walkability to parks and identify the essential elements of a safe route to a park. Additionally, this report assesses the barriers to walkability, determines the key stakeholders responsible for creating safe routes to parks, identifies strategies on building awareness on the importance of walkability, and recognizes current initiatives on improving safe routes to parks. Download Safe Routes to Parks: Improving Access to Parks through Walkability.
Older reports can be accessed here:
Research Report Archive
For more information about research papers, contact NRPA Customer Service at 800.626.NRPA (6772)