Healthy Innovations Make the Case for Parks and Recreation

By Bartram, Samantha | Parks & Recreation, April 2015 | Go to article overview

Healthy Innovations Make the Case for Parks and Recreation


Bartram, Samantha, Parks & Recreation


When modern ideas about leisure and recreation were first being explored in depth in the early 1900s, most influential thinkers made the connection that exercise and access to nature resulted in a healthier society. This was considered true regarding both physical and mental health. Whole theories of recreation and physical education revolved around the idea that in order to raise a healthy, well-adjusted society, children needed to be fit and connected to the world outdoors.

Somehow in the ensuing 100 years or so we got away from those ideas. As NRPA Director of Health Initiatives Zarnaaz Bashir recently pointed out to a group of almost 30 NRPA Innovation Lab attendees, "We've engineered physical activity out of our environment." One purpose of NRPA's first Innovation Lab was to get a closer look at an agency with a mission to achieve precisely the opposite.

Innovating for Health

NRPA's Miami Innovation Lab was held March 12-13 at the Mayfair Hotel in historic Coconut Grove (www. nrpa.org/Innovation-Labs). Miami-Dade County is home to one of the most forward-thinking agencies when it comes to health and how parks, recreation, doctors and families can work together to reverse negative health trends. Jack Kardys, director of Miami-Dade County's Department of Parks, Recreation and Open Space (PROS), and Maria Nardi, chief of planning at PROS, pulled together their brightest partners for two days of sharing, brainstorming and informative site visits designed to illustrate why today's park and recreation professional should add "healthcare provider" to their title as well.

Miami-Dade County is all about placemaking with four areas of focus in mind: policy, fitness programs, the built environment and media communications. It achieves this through innovative thinking and strategic partnerships that leverage particular areas of expertise including healthcare, socioeconomics, land use and safety. Basically, county leaders are looking out their windows and reimagining the landscape as one that should contribute to everyone's overall health and well-being, regardless of race, class or geography. As park and recreation professionals, we know the wide-reaching effect we have on the health of the communities we serve, but leveraging that knowledge to capture the attention of policy makers and those holding the purse strings is a tricky matter. PROS is a model of how to get it done.

In league with the University of Miami School of Architecture, the Florida Department of Health and Miami's Miller School of Medicine, Kardys and Nardi endeavored to craft a 50-year master plan focused on engineering for equitable health outcomes. "The open space master plan ... shapes how we approach things as a culture," Kardys said. "Miami-Dade County, as a result of that plan, adopted the idea that parks are not just a destination--they're a metaphor for a healthy environment, with the public realm, natural spaces, cultural spaces, greenways and blueways tying it all together."

Now, almost eight years into the 50year master plan, PROS is building its case with hard numbers and rehable data that will illustrate to politicians and financiers the value of a holistic parks system. "No department in local government touches more people than we do," Kardys said, adding, "yet no department has been cut as much as we have. I wonder, in larger systems that have had similar cuts, if people take us for granted because we're not messaging that."

Showing, Telling and Imagining

The Innovation Lab featured a day of presentations from some of Kardys' strategic Miami-based partners, as well as health leaders from across the country. …

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