Magazine article Parks & Recreation

Rural Resurgence: Planners and Park Professionals Can Work Together to Revive Rural Communities

Magazine article Parks & Recreation

Rural Resurgence: Planners and Park Professionals Can Work Together to Revive Rural Communities

Article excerpt

In the past three decades, rural recreation and park agencies have faced extraordinary local culture challenges while trying to maintain quality services and park facilities. Many rural North American communities have faced a decline in agricultural and industrial economy, thus resulting in a reduced tax base, residential population and employment. Each of these reductions may contribute to the erosion of local education, economy and even public health. While more urban communities are not immune to these same challenges, their infrastructure is often not as fragile, so they are often more financially resilient than rural communities.

Rural recreation and park agencies and professionals are adequately equipped to partner with others to address these challenges, but they cannot do so alone. A sustainable approach requires collaborating with other public services. Community planners are often vital partners to parks and recreation, especially when resources are scarce. In urban communities, community planners and recreation and park professionals are often connected, with some larger recreation and park agencies even employing their own planning staff. In rural communities, however, the relationship is not as seamless, and both are often understaffed and overextended with responsibilities. Even so, the challenges facing rural communities are addressed more effectively when the two are "at the table" together.

A Historical Context

The planning profession was born out of the response to numerous social, environmental and health crises that plagued communities. In the profession's infancy, urban public health was a primary focus for planners. Their efforts to control air pollution, keep water clean, handle sewage and establish public health inspections were all necessary to combat deadly health epidemics. Fredrick Law Olmsted, a public administrator and landscape designer, recognized the value of utilizing parks to address public health issues while promoting moral pastimes, physical activity and emotional well-being.

The planning profession evolved over time, with urban planners becoming the caretakers of zoning and development and engaging in fewer unique planning initiatives. This resulted in minimal development controls and missed opportunities for continuing a significant role in public health and park development. In the past decade, urban communities have renewed the collaboration between recreation, park services and planning. Rural communities have been slower to engage planning and park services, possibly due to lack of resources but also misunderstandings about each other.

Combating the Issues

Within the past decade, both urban and rural communities have begun to look at addressing open-space planning and parks and recreation needs in their areas. Local governments have begun to team with regional council of government (COG) planning departments and have also teamed with planning and recreation programs at local colleges and universities. Together, these agencies have been able to work toward efficient development of parks and recreation facilities, all the while maintaining a presence of mind of how the development can impact the community as a whole.

One such example lies in rural northeastern North Carolina. Utilizing the Department of Recreation and Leisure Studies at nearby East Carolina University as well as the state's Mid-East Commission Council of Governments Planning Department, this region was able to develop both a comprehensive recreation plan for the community and a site-specific master plan for a community recreation facility. …

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