Magazine article Parks & Recreation

Connecting with Anaheim Mayor Tom Tait

Magazine article Parks & Recreation

Connecting with Anaheim Mayor Tom Tait

Article excerpt

With preparation underway for the 2012 NRPA Congress and Exposition in Anaheim, California, P&R spoke with the mayor to learn how parks and recreation are bringing people together.

ONE DOESN'T IMMEDIATELY think of Anaheim- known in the U.S. for its tourism industry-as a private place. But for Mayor Tom Tait, strengthening connections among the city's 343,000 residents is a priority.

"It's very interesting in southern California. Culturally, people are much more private than I think they are in smaller towns or other parts of the country," Tait says. "We are particularly challenged... because of the way the houses are laid out-not really having front porches...and people using their automatic garage door openers to go in and out."

In January 2011, in conjunction with his vision to instill a core value of kindness in Anaheim, Tait announced the launch of "Hi Neighbor," an outreach campaign focused on safety, community building, and emergency preparedness. The initiative is a revival of a program created in 1959 by the Anaheim Lions Club in response to the city's growth. Over a period of several years, residents gathered annually for a Hi Neighbor Day festival in Pearson Park or LaPalma Park to meet each other, learn about city services, and enjoy food and entertainment.

By adapting the Hi Neighbor concept to the modern day, Tait believes Anaheim can be better prepared to deal with challenges and unforeseen disasters. Included in the initiative are an online portal and free social media site where residents can acquire resources and exchange information related to things such as event planning, neighborhood watches, and disaster recovery.

"When people come together, good things happen," Tait says. "[Hi Neighbor] is part of a social infrastructure...to make sure when people are maybe up to no good, neighbors are looking out for one another."

He continues, "Here in California, we're one day closer to that big earthquake or some other emergency that could potentially overwhelm our fire departments or police departments. So, it has to be neighbors that come together to help one another."

When asked where parks fit into the fold, Tait speaks matter-of-factly.

"To get people to connect, we have to have a place where they can connect. That place is our parks. …

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