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Feature Article - June 2018

Parks & Recreation

A Look at Trends in Parks & Recreation



Parks and recreation districts and departments have long struggled with funding and budgets, with staffing and outreach, and with equipment and facility maintenance and management. But despite the challenges, the professionals employed in this discipline are overwhelmingly satisfied with their work, and see a positive future for the places and programs they provide.

For many Americans, parks and recreation form a foundation on which community and healthy living are built. Just take a quick scan through the National Recreation and Park Association's regular "Park Pulse) surveys, and you'll see Americans turn to parks for everything from curing their winter blues and attending events to engaging kids with nature and boosting activity levels at all ages. The NRPA's "Americans' Engagement With Parks Survey" showed a majority of Americans believe parks and recreation are important services, and that they are more likely to vote for local politicians who make parks and recreation a priority.

And the benefits aren't just based on the NRPA's three pillars—Conservation, Health and Wellness, and Social Equity. A recent report from the association showed that local parks generated more than $154 billion in economic activity and supported more than 1.1 million jobs in 2015 from operations and capital spending alone.

In this section, we take a look at the latest trends among our parks and recreation respondents. The largest cohort covered in the survey, respondents from these types of organizations made up 40.6 percent of the survey population.

As is the case with the general survey population, the largest percentage of parks respondents (31.3 percent) are from the Midwest. Nearly one-quarter (24.1 percent) are from the West. The South Atlantic is home to 17.6 percent of parks respondents, while 16.5 percent are from the Northeast. The smallest number of parks respondents are from the South Central region, which is home to 10.5 percent. No parks respondents are located outside of the United States.

Parks respondents in 2018 are much more likely than non-parks respondents to be from suburban communities. Some 50.2 percent of parks respondents reported from the suburbs, compared with 38.8 percent of non-parks respondents. Parks respondents are slightly more likely to be from urban areas, with 21.6 percent calling urban communities home, compared with 20.4 percent of non-parks respondents. They are much less likely to be from rural communities. While 40.8 percent of non-parks respondents call rural areas home, just 28.2 percent of parks respondents are from rural communities.

Given that they are more likely to be from suburban and urban communities, it comes as no surprise that parks respondents serve a larger population than most other respondents. On average, parks respondents said they reach a population of 94,710. Parks respondents were more likely than non-parks respondents to report that they serve a population of at least 100,000 people, with 21.7 percent of parks reporting that they reach a population of at least 100,000. This compares with 15.2 percent of non-parks respondents. Conversely, while 33.4 percent of parks respondents said they reach a population of 20,000 or less, for non-parks respondents, that number jumps to 58.3 percent.

On average, parks respondents said they manage 9.9 facilities, down from 11.1 in 2017. Nearly three in 10 (27 percent) parks respondents said they manage 10 or more facilities. (See Figure 42.) This compares with just 10.2 percent of non-parks respondents. Conversely, parks respondents are far less likely than non-parks respondents to manage just a single facility. While 18.3 percent of parks respondents manage just one facility, some 47.7 percent of non-parks respondents said they have just one facility to manage.

Parks respondents are more likely than non-parks respondents to reach either an all-ages audience or an audience of children ages 4 to 12. While 54.9 percent of parks respondents said they primarily reach all ages, just 35.2 percent of non-parks respondents reach an all-ages audience. And, while 26 percent of parks respondents said that their primary audience is children ages 4 to 12, just 11.6 percent of non-parks respondents primarily reach this age group. Other audiences served by parks include: adults (13 percent of parks respondents said they primarily reach adults), teens (3.3 percent), seniors (2.5 percent), and college students (0.3 percent). No parks respondents said they primarily reach infants and toddlers.

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