Feature Article - June 2015
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Parks & Recreation

A Look at Trends in Parks & Recreation

While the data continue to show a gradual return of budgets and revenues, cities and other governmental organizations are still feeling the impact of the recession—both in terms of the hit they took in revenues and budgets in the wake of the economic downturn itself, as well as in various austerity measures that have been adopted since. The National League of Cities in its "2015 Cities and State Fiscal Structures" report shows that city finances have been slow to recover in part because of constraints on their ability to raise revenues.

"The Cities and State Fiscal Structures report supports the fact that cities and towns need more fiscal autonomy to balance their budgets, create economic growth and meet their communities' needs," said Clarence E. Anthony, CEO and president of the National League of Cities in a press release.

At the same time that municipalities and other governmental organizations have been adapting to a "new normal" for budgets and revenues, parks and recreation agencies across the country have been taking on an expanding role in their communities. So says the National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA), now celebrating its 50th anniversary. In its recent "NRPA's 2015 Field Report," the association compared data gathered and published in 1965 with new data provided by agencies between 2010 and 2014, and found that the "…field has seen a vast broadening of roles and duties over the past five decades." It adds that in the past five years, parks have met their growing list of to-dos with "unprecedented resourcefulness, serving their communities well despite constrained budgets, lean staffs and greatly reduced revenue streams."

In this section of the Industry Report, we'll look at who our parks respondents are, and examine how they are continuing to grow and thrive in recent years.

As is the case with the general survey population, the largest proportion of parks respondents in 2015 (30.6 percent) were from the Midwest. Nearly a quarter (23 percent) were from the West. Another 21.3 percent were from the South Atlantic region. Smaller numbers of parks respondents reported in from the Northeast (16 percent) and South Central region (8.9 percent).

Nearly half (48.1 percent) of parks respondents reported from suburban communities, making them much more likely than non-parks respondents to be from the suburbs. By comparison, 38.6 percent of non-parks respondents were in suburban communities. Parks respondents were less likely than non-parks respondents to be in urban and rural areas. A quarter (25 percent) of non-parks respondents were from urban communities, compared with 22.1 percent of parks respondents; and 36.4 percent of non-parks respondents were from rural communities, compared with 29.8 percent of parks respondents.

As you might expect, the vast majority of parks respondents—98.1 percent—said they worked for public organizations. By comparison, just 44.2 percent of non-parks respondents were with public organizations. Another 1.6 percent of parks respondents said they were with private nonprofits, and 0.2 percent said they worked for private, for-profit organizations.

On average, parks respondents report that they manage 9.9 different facilities. This falls right in between the past two years: In 2014, parks respondents managed an average of 9.5 facilities, and in 2013, they managed 10.5 Nearly three in 10 (28.8 percent) parks respondents said that they manage 10 or more facilities. (See Figure 40.) This compares with just 9.9 percent of non-parks respondents who said they manage 10 or more. At the same time, parks were far less likely than non-parks respondents to manage just one facility. While 17.9 percent of parks respondents said they manage one facility, nearly half (49.6 percent) of non-parks respondents said they had one facility to manage.

Parks respondents were far more likely to serve an all-ages audience or an audience of children ages 4 to 12 than non-parks respondents. While 56.1 percent of parks respondents said their primary audience was all ages, just 32.7 percent of non-parks respondents serve all ages. And, while 26.6 percent of parks respondents serve children ages 4 to 12 as their primary audience, this was the primary audience for just 11.3 percent of non-parks respondents. Some 11.3 percent of parks respondents said adults ages 19 to 64 were their primary audience. Another 3.7 percent named teens ages 13 to 18 as their primary audience, while 2 percent serve seniors 65 and older, 0.2 percent serve infants and toddlers, and 0.1 percent said college students were their main audience.

The vast majority of parks respondents (94.8 percent) said they formed partnerships with outside organizations. This compares with 79.8 percent of non-parks respondents. The most common partners for parks were local schools (76.5 percent of parks respondents partner with them), local government (68.5 percent), nonprofit organizations (58 percent), corporate or local businesses (42.6 percent), and state government (40.4 percent.) (See Figure 41.)