Feature Article - June 2007
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Building Active, Involved Communities

Parks and Playgrounds

Traditional parks and playgrounds are the facilities we often think of when we consider parks and recreation departments, and this was reflected in the top amenities the Industry Survey respondents said were included in their facilities. Nearly 90 percent said their facilities included playgrounds. More than three-quarters also included park structures, such as shelters, restroom buildings and concession buildings, as well as trails and open spaces such as gardens and natural areas. Outdoor sport courts, bleachers and other seating, natural turf sports fields and concession areas were also included in the facilities of a majority of parks and recreation respondents. Community and multipurpose centers and outdoor aquatic facilities also were included by more than half.

Not much will change over the next several years, with more of the same—traditional park amenities—listed among the top plans of parks and recreation respondents. The top three amenities they are planning to add within the next three years include more park structures, trails and open spaces, and playgrounds.

The addition of open spaces and parklands is particularly important in urban facilities. A recent study from the University of Manchester determined that increasing the amount of green space in urban areas by just 10 percent could reduce surface temperatures by as much as 4 degrees Celsius—equivalent to the average predicted temperature increase caused by global warming by the 2080s.

In February 2007 testimony before the Interior and Environmental Subcommittee of the U.S. House of Representatives, Richard Louv, author of "Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder" and chairman of the Children & Nature Network, reported that only 6 percent of kids between 9 and 13 years old play outside on their own during a typical week. "Studies by the National Sporting Goods Association and American Sports Data, a research firm, show a dramatic decline in the past decade in such outdoor activities as swimming and fishing," he added. "Even bike riding is down 31 percent since 1995."

Creating parks and green spaces that are accessible to children, teens and families of all backgrounds and income levels is a key to improving public health, and defeating the ever-more-alarming epidemic of obesity in this country.

"As far as I'm aware of, most cities are woefully short of parkland, and there are increasing pressures on what little available space there is," Figurski said. "Park departments are also suffering a lack of funding in many cases, so you have increased pressure on existing spaces, and you have less and less availability of funding and materials to take advantage of when creating those parks."

More people will be looking to get in touch with nature by heading out the door and walking a short distance, Figurski added, and that means a lot of demand for the parks that are available.

"Parks are going to have to withstand a lot of use," he said. "People aren't going to want to get in their car and ride for an hour or two hours into the countryside to connect with nature. They want to just cross the street and connect with something green and flowing and fresh."