Feature Article - June 2011
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Parks & Recreation

A Look at Trends in Parks & Recreation

By Emily Tipping

Building Plans

While 37.5 percent of park respondents reported that they had put construction plans on hold in order to reduce operating expenditures, nearly two-thirds (64.9 percent) of parks respondents said they do have plans for construction of some kind. Nearly half (49.4 percent) said they have plans to renovate their existing facilities over the next three years. Another quarter (25.5 percent) are planning to make additions. And 28.2 percent are planning to build new facilities. (See Figure 43.)

The most common features included among parks respondents' facilities included: park structures such as shelters and restrooms, playgrounds, trails, open spaces, bleachers and seating, outdoor sports courts (i.e., basketball courts and tennis courts), concessions, natural turf fields for sports like soccer and football, classrooms and meeting rooms, and community centers or multipurpose centers.

Parks respondents were more likely than many other respondents to indicate that they have plans to add more features or amenities to their facilities over the next three years. While 41.5 percent of all respondents have plans to add to their facilities, 47.5 percent of parks respondents have such plans.

More than a quarter of these respondents are planning to add splash play areas (28.5 percent), trails (26.6 percent), playgrounds (26 percent) and park structures (26 percent). Nearly a quarter are planning to add dog parks (24.6 percent) and disc golf courses (22 percent). Other relatively commonly planned additions include open spaces, such as gardens and natural areas (16.9 percent), skateparks (15.8 percent), bleachers and seating (13.8 percent) and natural turf sports fields (13.8 percent).


Playgrounds have held a solid position among parks respondents'—and all respondents'—top planned additions for many years running. This year, 19.9 percent of all respondents with plans for new features want to add playgrounds. For parks respondents, that number is 26 percent. More than one-fifth of respondents with plans for new features from schools (25 percent), YMCAs (23.9 percent) and camps (21.9 percent) also have plans to add playgrounds.

In a time of growing concern over childhood obesity and lack of outdoor time for children, these plans seem well-placed. According to a Synopsis of 2010 Research Papers from the National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA), a third of Americans report that their community does not have an adequate number of playgrounds to serve the children who need them. The problem is worse in poorer communities, the report states.

The trend toward adding more environmental education programs among parks respondents is also supported by anecdotal evidence of a growing interest in connecting people with the outdoors. For many, one of the easiest segues from the built environment into the natural world is via playgrounds. Perhaps for this reason, many playground manufacturers have added elements that serve this transition with not only natural colors, but also natural-looking elements, and even trailside elements that aim to educate children and families about nature.

Increasing inclusiveness has also been a growing trend in the playground space, with manufacturers and those who build playgrounds alike aiming to go beyond simple accessibility to ensure that children of different abilities can play alongside one another.