Feature Article - June 2014
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A Look at Trends in Parks & Recreation

Parks & Recreation

Park districts and parks and recreation departments continue to see a slow recovery from the lowest points of the recent recession. The National League of Cities reports that city finances are in the midst of a "tenuous" recovery, with an improved outlook driven by increased sales tax and income tax revenue, and improved local economic health.

"City officials are clearly feeling better about how their local economies are doing," said Marie Lopez Rogers, president of NLC and mayor of Avondale, Ariz., in a press release. "But city officials are still making difficult and critical decisions regarding the types of community investments they need to make on behalf of the families they serve. Local officials must be vigilant as the economy continues its painfully slow recovery."

Christiana McFarland, interim director for City Solutions and Applied Research at NLC, said a number of factors are playing into balancing budgets and decision-making. "Infrastructure demands, employee-related costs, and cuts in federal and state aid continue to weigh heavily on local budgets and will for the foreseeable future," she said. "External shocks and economic uncertainty could undermine optimism and progress at the local level."

Many parks are managed at the city government level, or partner closely with city government. The Trust for Public Land reports that 80 percent of Americans live in or near a city, and for these citizens, neighborhood parks are the best connection to nature. However, TPL adds that there currently is just one park for every 3,000 people in the country, disconnecting children and adults from nature, as well as the fun and fitness that can be found in parks.

Public parks, TPL states, promote public health and revitalize local economies. They help cities become more energy-efficient, and help ameliorate some of the effects of climate change. They help people connect with nature and with one another. Parks truly are among our nation's finest accomplishments, and are among its most valuable resources.

For the Industry Report survey, the greatest number of parks respondents hailed from the Midwest, with nearly three out of 10 (29.1 percent) reporting that they call the Midwest home. They were followed by the West (22.4 percent) and the South Atlantic (21.3 percent). Fewer parks respondents were reporting from the Northeast (15.4 percent) or the South Central states (11.5 percent.)

Parks respondents were more likely than the general survey population to be from suburban communities. While 38.9 percent of all respondents said they were from suburban areas, some 43.1 percent of parks respondents were from the suburbs. Nearly a third (32.3 percent) of parks respondents were from rural areas, and nearly a quarter (24.6 percent) were from urban communities.

As you would expect, the vast majority of parks respondents—97.9 percent—indicate that they work for public organizations. By comparison, just 47 percent of non-parks respondents were from public organizations. Another 2.1 percent of parks respondents represent private nonprofit organizations.

On average, parks respondents manage 9.5 different facilities. This is slightly down from 2013, when the average was 10.5. More than three in 10 (30.9 percent) parks respondents report that they manage 10 or more facilities. (See Figure 40.) This compares with just 9.8 percent of non-parks respondents managing 10 or more facilities. Parks were far less likely than non-parks respondents to manage a single facility. Just 16.3 percent of parks respondents said they operate or manage only one facility, compared with 45.2 percent of the non-parks respondents.