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Feature Article - June 2012

Parks & Recreation

A Look at Trends in Parks & Recreation


Despite the slight positive trend in economic developments over the past year, municipalities and states continue to feel the impact of the economic downturn. According to the National League of Cities 2011 annual survey of city finance officers, cities' fiscal condition continued to weaken in 2011 as cities struggled to deal with struggling housing markets, slow consumer spending and high unemployment. City finance officers, looking toward the end of 2011, projected declining revenues, with corresponding spending cutbacks. This comes on top of several years of budget challenges, as well as staff and budget cuts.

Asked about their most common responses to shortfalls in fiscal 2011, a majority city finance officers indicated that they had made personnel-related cuts, delayed or cancelled capital infrastructure projects. Some 42 percent also indicated that their city made cuts in services other than public safety and human-social services. These cuts were most likely made in services such as public works, libraries, and parks and recreation programs.

Once again faced with ongoing challenges due to a muddling-along economy, parks and recreation respondents to our survey delivered a mixed bag of opinions and results.

Parks & Recreation

As in years past, respondents from parks and recreation departments, agencies and organizations make up the largest percentage of facilities in the Industry Report survey. In 2012, 37.8 percent of all respondents reported that they were from parks organizations.

Compared with all survey respondents, those from parks organizations were slightly more likely to be from the West or the South Atlantic regions, while they were slightly less likely to be from the Northeast, the Midwest or the South Central states. Nearly a quarter (24.1 percent) of parks respondents were from the West, compared with a fifth (20.6 percent) of all respondents. And more than a fifth (21.9 percent) were from the South Atlantic, compared with 18.8 percent of all respondents.

That said, parks respondents were most likely to be from the Midwest. More than a quarter (26.1 percent) of these respondents reported in from the Midwest. They were least likely to be from the South Central region, with just 11.1 percent of parks respondents indicating they came from those states.

Parks respondents were slightly more likely to come from urban and suburban communities than general survey respondents. Some 44.4 percent of parks respondents are from suburban communities, compared with 41.2 percent of all respondents, and 26.6 percent are from urban areas, compared with 25.3 percent of all respondents. They were slightly less likely to be from rural communities. Less than three in 10 (29.1 percent) of parks respondents were from rural communities, compared with a third (33.5 percent) of all respondents.

On average, parks respondents reported that they manage 10.4 facilities, more than any other facility type. More than three in 10 respondents (30.5 percent) from parks organizations said they manage 10 or more facilities, with half of those (15.1 percent of all parks respondents) indicating that they manage 20 or more facilities. Still, more (40.6 percent) said they manage three or fewer facilities. (See Figure 39.)