Magazine article Parks & Recreation

Partnering with Planners to Create Active Living: Working with Local Transportation and Planning Agencies Can Extend the Benefits of Park and Recreation Programs

Magazine article Parks & Recreation

Partnering with Planners to Create Active Living: Working with Local Transportation and Planning Agencies Can Extend the Benefits of Park and Recreation Programs

Article excerpt


PARKS AND PLANNING DEPARTMENTS strive to improve the quality of life for their citizens, Unfortunately, these two entities have not always collaborated in the past to achieve this mutual goal.

Traditionally, park professionals have taken care of open space and recreation facilities, transportation planners dealt with moving cars around town, and planners reviewed development proposals for the built environment. In light of current economic and health concerns, park professionals, land-use planners, and transportation planners across the country are beginning to recognize their similarities and are forming partnerships at the local level. These partnerships are allowing the departments to provide better services that cost less and increase the health and livability of their communities.

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood recently said, "Livability means a community where you can take kids to school, go to work, see a doctor, go to the grocery store, have dinner and a movie, and play with your kids in a park, all without having to get into a car" ( Secretary LaHood's statement reflects the nation's desire to rethink the sedentary lifestyle of many Americans that has contributed to higher obesity rates and economic hardship.

To achieve the goal of healthier, more livable communities, park professionals need to be at the table for all projects that could improve public health. These projects include, but are not limited to: large-scale development, major road construction, urban revitalization, and the placement of any new public facility. Being involved at the early stages of planning projects will give the parks department the opportunity to write joint-use agreements, request bike/pedestrian lanes, recommend park placement, and review zoning laws that regulate land use within parks.

If the parks and planning departments are involved in the location selection process for schools, libraries, or other municipal buildings, they can design multi-purpose campuses. These campuses have the potential to incorporate parking, sidewalks, bike paths, mixed-use buildings, and open space reminiscent of historic town squares. By placing these facilities in neighborhoods instead of on the outskirts of town, the community can have a center that is accessible without a car and vibrant during the day and evening. Close proximity of these amenities makes joint-use agreements a necessity and therefore encourages more collaboration between municipal departments and community-based organizations.

Partnering with transportation planners on road design standards is also important, as park professionals need to focus on how people get to parks. Researchers have found that children who have safe access to parks participate in more physical activity than children who have traffic hazards and unsafe intersections between their homes and parks (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Public Health Service, Office of the Surgeon General, 2001). Numerous communities are working to implement initiatives like Safe Routes to Parks and Complete Streets to ensure that those who live near parks can access them, as well as have increased physical activity opportunities.

One community that is working with planners to improve street safety is O'Fallon, Missouri. LiveWell O'Fallon, a coalition led by the parks department, worked with planners last year to create a list of incomplete streets, sidewalks, and trails. …

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