Parks and Recreation Professionals as Community Change Agents

By Jarvi, Christopher K.; Wegner, Daniel E. | Parks & Recreation, January 2001 | Go to article overview

Parks and Recreation Professionals as Community Change Agents


Jarvi, Christopher K., Wegner, Daniel E., Parks & Recreation


America has gone through some profound changes and challenges in the last four decades. Many of our communities are in distress and face increasingly complex problems of poverty, race relations, environmental concerns, crime, and education. Many of these problems were brought about by patriarchal, hierarchical and rigid bureaucratic political structures which fostered little thought of the collaboration necessary for problem solving (Potapchuk, 1999).

Hugh Guest (2000) speculates that our problems have evolved from the lack of communication across the service sectors including professions, corporations, public service agencies, and institutions.

Fortunately, new community problem solving approaches have begun to emerge which hold promise as methods for constructing a new model of community democracy. They are built upon' the premise that problem solving must emanate from within communities using existing community assets (Kretzmann & McKnight, 1993; Gates, 1999). Communities that appear to be working are those that have bridge-building organizations and networks that cross policy areas, sectors, neighborhoods, and other boundaries to elevate a "children-and-families" agenda (Potapchuk & Crocker, 1999). The literature suggests that most successful communities in the 21st Century will be those that develop effective collaboration to improve the collective standard of living based upon what matters most to people -- the community's physical and social assets.

Few examples of research exist in the parks and recreation profession with regard to the impact of parks and recreation on community problem solving. This review examines research literature pertinent to some of the work being done by civic planners on the role that agencies such as parks and recreation departments can play in community building in today's environment with particular emphasis on facilitating collaborations. It explores the context for change, the need for change, and the unique position of parks and recreation professionals in communities for effecting change and some of the conditions needed for successful collaborations.

America's democracy is in need of repair. Problems facing cities are increasingly complex according to Christopher Gates (1999). He suggests that four prominent obstacles stand in the way of effective problem solving at the community level: the anger and frustration of citizens; the presumption that government is inept or deceitful; loss of faith in the political process; and the media's focus on the negative.

The Context for Change

Duhl (1997) sees the effective community leader today as a social entrepreneur who emphasizes the quality of life as a major outcome of their work. This individual must understand that ours is a diverse society in which many groups with conflicting values, beliefs and goal systems must be integrated to develop solutions to our complex problems. Leadership in this context involves the process of facilitating, mutual education, learning, mentoring, collaborating, and cooperating with diverse groups and individuals. If properly done, this type of leadership creates communities in which relationships have been developed across service sectors and where citizens have forged alliances to resolve neighborhood problems.

Potachuk, Crocker & Schechter (1999) state that the traditional patriarchal, hierarchical and bureaucratic models of governance are being replaced by ones that are more organic in nature. They believe that the new governance models must be built upon groups of stakeholders working on common problems related to both human services and physical development linked through both formal and informal agreements. The primary focus of community collaboratives in many cities has become the well being of children, families, and neighborhoods.

Researchers describe how the roles of for-profits, non-profits and local government have evolved in this new environment to include some distinctive characteristics. …

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