Feature Article - June 2007
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Building Active, Involved Communities

Top Issues in Parks and Recreation

By far the top issue of concern to respondents from parks and recreation departments—both now and in three years—was the budget. Nearly three-quarters of respondents in this category said budgetary concerns were a major issue now, and more than 60 percent said they expected them to be a concern three years from now.

The NRPA reported last May that parks and recreation departments face a $38 billion funding deficit for basic needs over the next four years. With other city services like fire and police considered more important, parks and recreation departments often must scramble for shrinking dollar amounts.

In a press release from the NRPA discussing its Urban Park and Recreation Summit, Long Beach (California) Mayor Beverly O'Neill said, "Let's face it, nobody is going to give [parks and recreation] any resources until you demonstrate that your services are just as important as the health and safety of our communities—as important as police officers, fire fighters, streets and sidewalks."

The NRPA's National Legislative and Policy Platform for 2007 included several recommendations associated with improving funding for parks. (See www.nrpa.org for more information on these recommendations.) These include support for funding the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) state assistance program, the Urban Park and Recreation Recovery Act and the River Trails and Conservation Assistance (RTCA) program, among others.

Atilano also referred to funding challenges as a barrier that prevents many parks departments from providing communities with the facilities they need. And he advised that there are ways the design team can help improve the efficiency of the building, as well as its staffing.

"There's limited funding. There are not opportunities for them to get money, so reducing energy costs and smart space allocation are important," he said. "The old proven option for funding is state grants, especially here in Illinois," he added.

Wallover suggested that it's important to get innovative about finding new approaches to funding, particularly by forming creative partnerships with other organizations in the community.

"It seems like we're just starting to touch on more in-depth partnerships—looking outside the box," she said.