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Feature Article - June 2019
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Parks & Recreation

A Look at Trends in Parks & Recreation


Park districts, parks and recreation departments and other similar agencies may vary widely from state to state and region to region, but for the most part, all of them have been under increasing pressure to do more with less. Park directors and other professionals are asked to recover more of their costs through revenues, and need to find ways to stretch their staff to get more done with fewer workers. But despite those challenges, parks have continued to gain investment from the

public, and the amenities and programming found in parks have expanded to encompass everything from the expected playgrounds and picnic shelters to splash pads, dog parks, outdoor gyms and more.

According to The Trust for Public Land (TPL), public spending on parks in the 100 largest U.S. cities increased 6 percent in 2018, from $7.1 billion to $7.5 billion. There was an increased investment in certain features from 2017 to 2018 as well, with 22 percent more community gardens, 69 percent more pickleball courts, and 35 percent more splash pads. That doesn't mean the work is done. Park investment varies widely, and TPL reported that more work needs to be done to provide access to parks, in particular, given that 30 percent of people still do not live within a 10-minute walk of a park.

In this section, we take a look at the latest trends among respondents from park agencies. The largest cohort covered in the survey, these respondents made up 47.9 percent of the survey population.

The largest number of parks respondents (28.8 percent) were from the Midwest. They were followed by the West, where more than one-quarter (25.3 percent) of parks respondents are located. Smaller numbers hail from the South Atlantic states (19.6 percent), the Northeast (14.6 percent) and the South Central region (11.7 percent).

Parks respondents in 2019 were more likely than non-parks respondents to be from suburban communities, and less likely to be located in rural areas. Some 45.8 percent of parks respondents said they were located in the suburbs, compared with 40.8 percent of non-parks respondents. Another 30 percent of parks respondents were located in rural communities, while 36.1 percent of non-parks respondents were found in rural areas. Finally, 24.2 percent of parks respondents were located in urban areas, compared with 23.1 percent of non-parks respondents.

Parks respondents serve a larger average population size than most other respondents. On average, parks respondents said they reach a population of 118,600 people. This is up 25.2 percent from 2018, when parks respondents reached an average of 94,710 people. Parks respondents were more likely than non-parks respondents to report that they serve a population of at least 100,000 people, with 24 percent of parks reporting that they reach at least 100,000 (up from 21.7 percent in 2018). This compares with 17.1 percent of non-parks respondents. Conversely, while 30 percent of parks respondents said they reach a population of 20,000 or fewer (down from 33.4 percent in 2018), for non-parks respondents that number jumps to 56.3 percent.