Magazine article Parks & Recreation

Plan Your Work, Work Your Plan: Master Planning for Rural Communities: A Tool for Community Organizing

Magazine article Parks & Recreation

Plan Your Work, Work Your Plan: Master Planning for Rural Communities: A Tool for Community Organizing

Article excerpt

On any given day, America's rural communities are challenged with circumstances they are hard-pressed to control. Many rural economies are in decline, losing residents and tax revenues. Urban and suburban sprawl changes rural demographics. And urban professionals choosing to live in rural areas demand the same lifestyles they leave behind in the city. These changes to rural communities affect the quality and quantity of local public services-including public recreation--and the ability of communities to deliver such services. Enter the citizens.

The townspeople of rural communities are coming together to form nonprofit organizations as a way of filling isolated recreation service gaps in such areas as baseball and softball, for example. But the best intentions don't always balance with adequate expertise. In rural areas, recreation service delivery is often patched together, making recreation and park master planning overwhelming, inconsistent, devoid of leadership from any one agency, and generally problematic. A drastic need exists for community organization as well as focused master planning. But to achieve that goal, local leaders must be able to successfully organize their communities by identifying critical issues, gaining public participation, fostering solidarity, implementing programs, and evaluating their progress. Just as important, elected officials, developers, and urban and suburban community planners must work with rural planners to understand the nature of community organization and recreation service delivery in rural areas that are urbanizing.


In 1997, Craig Kelsey and Howard Gray published Master Plan Process for Parks and Recreation, the premiere handbook for writing master plans, since updated by Kelsey, with Sam DeFillippo. If used properly, a good master plan can bring communities together to increase quality of life, enhance tourism, and achieve a number of additional benefits.

But master planning in rural communities presents issues that are unique to rural communities. The following guidelines will help rural planners recognize the nuances of writing a master plan and offer strategies to overcome them.

Not All Plans Are Alike

In any profession and in any sized community, inconsistent use of terminology causes communication problems. The variety of language used in different disciplines and professions makes it important to review what we mean by a master plan.

A master plan is a planning document for a specific community service--such as recreation and park services--that functions as an independent tool for decision-making. It can ultimately become part of a community-wide comprehensive plan that includes decision-making for all community services, such as public safety, roads, and sanitation.

Some professions, such as landscape architecture, often use the term master plan when referencing a building or park site design and plan. For our purposes, a master plan is a community decision-making document related to the delivery of recreation and park services. Indoor and outdoor site design and plans are developed after a community recreation and park master plan is completed. The goal of a master plan is to develop the top 10 or the next five to 10 years of park and recreation projects, including program development or indoor and outdoor facility development. The facility development projects that come out of the master plan would then go into planning processes where an architect or a landscape architect would develop a site design and plan for each project.

The Patchwork Effect

Challenges develop quickly when multiple organizations from the public, nonprofit, and private sectors come together to fill a single recreation gap in a community. For example, it's very common for rural communities to have a nonprofit youth baseball association that operates a summer league and maintains a few fields at the park. …

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