By Cort Jones, communications manager, National Recreation and Parks Association
Since 1985, America has designated the month of July as the nation’s official Park and Recreation Month. This is a month in which we celebrate all the amazing offerings and benefits of parks and recreation, as well as all the hard work of the employees who, day in and day out, make their communities better places to live. This year, our theme for Park and Recreation Month is A Lifetime of Discovery, and we’re celebrating by highlighting the side of parks and recreation that may sometimes go unnoticed.
Parks and recreation aren’t just playgrounds, swimming pools, sports leagues, and summer camps. Now, more than ever, park and recreation agencies are offering science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) programming, along with programs for older adults, innovative health and wellness opportunities, community celebrations, outdoor education, flood mitigation, and many other initiatives that are beneficial to a community.
For the most part, parks and recreation is a service provided by local governments. As such, the open space and programs offered are heavily reliant on financial support from the local governments’ general tax funds. Those same funds also are allocated to other public services like police, fire protection, transportation, education, and public welfare. Despite the support for their services, unfortunately park and recreation agencies can suffer from decreased funding.
A 2017 study by NRPA revealed that nearly all local government officials (99 percent) agree that their local communities benefit from local park areas. The study also found that local government officials nearly unanimously (98 percent) agree that recreation services provide benefits to their communities. So while parks and recreation are viewed as a beneficial service, when a local government must cut spending then parks and recreation tend to be the service that sees the largest funding cut.
This could be because, according to the study, public officials don’t perceive parks and recreation as a critical contributor to economic development. However, according to the Top Trends in Parks and Recreation for 2018 by Rich Dolesh, NRPA’s vice president for strategic initiatives, economic development actually does depend on quality parks. In fact, a recent report shows that operations and capital spending for local parks generates more than $154 billion in economic activity and supports more than 1.1 million jobs.
Dolesh even made a prediction that when Amazon finally selects the location for HQ2, the highly coveted second Amazon headquarters site—with its 50,000 jobs—will be built in a community with a great park and recreation system that includes abundant trails, expansive greenways and blueways, and a populace that loves its parks and recreation facilities.
Park and recreation departments are significant employers, and their operations and capital spending generate significant economic impacts on local communities. According to NRPA’s Economic Impact of Local Parks report, operations spending by local park and recreation agencies generated nearly $91 billion in total economic activity during 2015. That activity boosted real gross domestic product (GDP) by $49 billion and supported more than 732,000 jobs that accounted for nearly $34 billion in salaries, wages, and benefits across the nation.
Further, local park and recreation agencies also invested an estimated $23 billion on capital programs in 2015. The capital spending led to an additional $64 billion in economic activity, a contribution of $32 billion to GDP, $21 billion in labor-related income, and nearly 378,000 jobs.
Parks, open space, and recreation facilities are clearly vital to a thriving community. They not only raise the standard of living, but they also provide jobs, attract businesses, and spark activity that can ripple throughout the economy. We hope that this July everyone can get out there and discover all the amazing offerings of their local park and recreation agencies!
To learn more about Park and Recreation Month, visit www.nrpa.org/july.
Unity of Voice. This 2016 article argues that great communities need great parks.
The Age of the Small Urban Park. In another 2016 article, the focus is on the importance of small urban parks and how these urban parks play a part in creating attractive neighborhoods.
Four ICMA Summer Resources. This 2018 blog post looks at some of ICMA's best resources that deal with the challenges summer brings to local governments.