Magazine article Parks & Recreation

The Work to Be Done: Failing to More Adequately Invest in Parks and Recreation Is a Profound Mistake

Magazine article Parks & Recreation

The Work to Be Done: Failing to More Adequately Invest in Parks and Recreation Is a Profound Mistake

Article excerpt

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Last month, I attended the 2011 National Recreation and Parks Association Legislative Forum in Washington, D.C. Park directors from all over the country descended on the nation's capital to lobby for greater federal investment in state and local park agencies. The cause was noble, but it felt like we were nomads searching a desert for water.

Visiting with other big city park directors confirmed that San Francisco's budget challenges are not unique. Budget cuts will force the city of Houston to close half of its recreation centers this year. The Los Angeles Parks Department expects hundreds of layoffs and significant park maintenance reductions. Seattle has already closed five recreation centers and has curtailed trash pick-up, ball field maintenance, and restroom cleanings. Baltimore shut half its rec centers and pools and Detroit closed 77 parks last year. According to a survey by the National League of Cities, 87 percent of cities were less able to meet their fiscal needs in 2010 than in the previous year.

Every park agency director I met last month is scrambling to offset cuts by raising revenue through concessions, special events, new partnerships, sponsorships, and philanthropy. Seattle and Colorado Springs have nonprofits running their rec centers. Denver will be generating revenue from more admission-based events in its parks. Miami is entering into public-private partnerships to restore recreation, swimming, arts programs, and park maintenance tasks.

Sound familiar?

Over the past year, the San Francisco Recreation and Park Department has been implementing creative revenue generating initiatives to help our public parks and recreation programs survive, including more special events, new partnerships and improved park amenities and concessions. These efforts are showing promise in helping turn the tide, but our work is not done and we certainly aren't alone in this.

Across the country, we are making a profound mistake by failing to more adequately invest in parks and recreation. Parks and recreation touch more than 300 million people in this nation. From our largest cities to our most rural communities, park and recreation agencies help foster health and well being, environmental sustainability, jobs, and a higher quality of living for all. Recreation and parks are important to us no matter if you are progressive or moderate, wealthy or poor, or whether you care more about the environment or the economy. Recreation and parks are critical to revitalizing our nation and our city by building healthy, livable communities. The case is compelling.

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Parks attract businesses, Corporate CEOs say that quality of life is one of the three most important factors in locating a new business. Small companies indicate that parks, recreation, and open space are a top priority in choosing where to start up. A KPMG survey of 1,200 technology workers reveals that a community's quality of life increased the attractiveness of a job by 33 percent.

Parks create jobs. In addition to attracting businesses and the jobs that come with them, investment in parks, reforestation and land restoration generates jobs at a much higher rate than many other sectors. …

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