Feature Article - September 2007
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Special Accommodations

Meeting Special Needs with Shelters, Shade and Other Park Structures

By Stacy St. Clair

No matter which type of shelter you go with, they can help you to provide additional programming opportunities at your site. A beautiful gazebo may be a perfect site to rent for outdoor weddings, while your bandstand or amphitheater can host a summertime concert-in-the-parks series.

Many park districts provide special pavilions for rental to patrons for picnics, family reunions and other events. If you're going to go this route, try to be sure your shelter is situated near restroom facilities, and includes lighting, water, electricity and picnic tables or other seating.

Going one step further, shelters and shade structures can be far more than just simple park ornaments and places to picnic. Creative recreation facility directors in some progressive communities are turning to innovative shelters and shade structures to play a critical role in providing recreation opportunities for patrons with special needs.

Discourage Damage

There's nothing really good to say about graffiti. It turns off patrons, drains manpower and creates an awful eyesore. It can be the result of a childish prank or more sinister gang activity. Either way, it's still a crime.

Graffiti makes up 35 percent of all vandalism in the United States, according to U.S. Bureau of Justice statistics. The federal government estimates the country spends roughly $12 billion each year to clean it up.

Of course, it's more than just a drain on tax dollars. The National Association of Realtors estimates properties located in areas with heavy graffiti lose 15 percent of their value.

And in the recreation industry, graffiti-riddled structures can impact patronage. A shelter sullied by vandalism gives the impression of a neglected park. Even worse, it also may suggest that more serious crimes—such as theft and assault—go unchallenged there.

When purchasing and installing shelters, gazebos and other park structures, you're also accepting a civic duty. You assume responsibility for keeping it crime-free, protecting property values and making patrons feel safe.

The first step in combating graffiti is understanding it. Experts classify it one of four ways: hip hop, gang, hate and generic non-threatening messages such as "Class of '09" or "Becks + Posh 4Ever." About 80 percent is hip hop, or tagger, graffiti. Gang graffiti accounts for about 10 percent, according to Keep America Beautiful Inc.

Most studies show that taggers usually are males between 12 and 21 years old. Only 15 percent are females. Arrest data from 17 major cities shows that up to 70 percent of street-level graffiti is done by teenage boys from the suburbs.

Towns across the United States have come up with anti-graffiti polices with varying success. Some communities have toyed with so-called legal walls, areas that permit graffiti. Experts, however, warn against the initiative after several communities in California and Illinois experimented with them and failed.

They faltered, in part, because they send a mixed message. To paraphrase Albert Einstein, a community cannot simultaneously prevent and encourage graffiti.

Studies back this up, too. Community records indicate the legal walls may work initially, but graffiti eventually spreads to surrounding areas. Data also shows vandalism arrests do not decline in communities with free walls.

Sadly, most recreation facility managers don't start worrying about graffiti until after their parks have been vandalized. The best way to deter property damage, however, is to have a proactive plan in the first place. Check out our 13 steps to help you make a clean start for your facility, on page 28.