What are the essential services in your community? In terms of widespread technological advancement and their involvement in the recent Smart City movement, Parks and Recreation have been a forgotten commodity, despite being the cornerstone in thriving communities that promote a healthy, active lifestyle.
According to a 2017 Nielsen study, 62% of North Americans feel that green and open leisure spaces are “essential” when choosing a place to live. However, with a lack of information about programs or services offered available online as well as gaps in tech-related convenience, such as an easy-to-use online registration system for their favorite activities, mean that community members aren’t engaging with Parks and Recreation organizations as much as they could be.
One of the residual effects of this reality is because, even as resident participation rates continue to decline, Parks and Recreation agencies are seldom prioritized as a breeding ground for technological innovation. However, that mentality only reinforces this vicious circle of diminishing returns, since there’s no way the industry can evolve alongside their communities if they aren’t afforded the same data, computing and software means as their local police or firefighting brethren.
Why should big data and tech officials start caring more about Parks and Recreation? To echo the survey results mentioned earlier, it’s a municipal cornerstone that provides a plethora of fiscal, natural and lifestyle benefits for all residents and visitors. It also has a direct impact on future generations and helping them grow and mature into healthy, community-minded adults.
Let’s go into more detail and uncover the biggest ways in which thriving public parks and recreation services add value to your city:
Public Parks Promote an Active Lifestyle
This one should be a no-brainer but, with kids and adults alike becoming increasingly overworked and bombarded with a variety of screen-based entertainment, the importance that public parks and recreation options play in the lives of community members has never been higher.
According to 2017 statistics, nearly 14 million kids in the United States alone suffer from obesity, a condition that affects 18.5% of youngsters aged 2-19 years. It’s an epidemic that will only worsen locally if your agency cannot provide citizens with an appealing, well-maintained menu of recreation spaces and services.
Whether it’s through select programs or activities that are offered on a weekly or even daily basis, or green spaces that are home to joggers or yoga enthusiasts, the more Parks and Recreation organizations can connect with the community on this level, the healthier a lifestyle they’re able to promote.
More Green Space = Better Mental Health
Speaking of reinforcing a healthy day-to-day, the impact of parks and green spaces on the mental health of residents and visitors shouldn’t be underestimated either. Many people venture out to their local recreation areas to unwind, decompress from their hectic schedules and even use the time spent in these locales to get themselves into a more positive headspace.
In 2015, a research initiative led by the University of Chicago suggested that those who live in a greener, tree-filled community experienced not only physical health benefits but a significant mental health boost as well. There’s a simple scientific explanation behind some of this (since a community with more trees equals a community with better quality air) but there are also other positive runoffs that aren’t getting the recognition they deserve.
“People have sort of neglected the psychological benefits of the environment,” said Berman. This includes the propensity to get out and exercise regularly, a mental shift that can eventually translate into improved health perception that’s comparable to a $10,000 annual increase in personal income. These are the kind of lasting growth indicators that cannot be overlooked.
Residents Benefit Economically
The economic benefits that come from living in a community that emphasizes its park and recreation offerings aren’t limited to personal income either. Part of creating a loop of consistent engagement with your residents involves not just increasing participation and related revenue streams.
I’ve talked about these casual links as a blogger before, but in sum, making improvements to your public parks and recreation spaces means nearby private properties the land will be more in demand, thus raising the value of homes and commercial locations in your municipality.
How much of an increase are we talking about? As much as a 20% increase in properties’ marginal value, according to findings from the city of Lynchburg, VA. You also have one-time economic boosts in the form of sports tournaments, special events, competitions and more, which buoy a recreation agency’s ability to generate revenue and create some buzz around their programs, activities and services.
Ecosystem Sustainability and Pollution Control
We already touched on how having well-maintained green spaces improve your community’s overall air quality, but the positive effects on a community’s ecosystem are so much more widespread than just providing cleaner oxygen to residents.
According to the U.S. Forest Service, one tree generates $31,250 worth of oxygen, provides $62,000 worth of air pollution control, recycles $37,500 worth of water, and controls $31,250 worth of soil erosion over a 50-year life cycle. In addition, many of these open spaces double as natural wetlands or habitats for indigenous wildlife, which further enriches the community’s atmosphere as one of environmental and ecological responsibility.
Storm Water Collection
When it comes to managing your community’s stormwater, trees and grassy areas are far better at absorbing rainfall and the effects of other extreme weather patterns, both of which are becoming more and more common with climate change. With this in mind, an increase in your city’s investment in public parks and green spaces could actually take the strain off your sewers and drainage systems.
Don’t just take my word for it either – the city of Garland, Texas took an active stance on this situation and the move has more than paid dividends for them. By encouraging private property owners to plant more trees on their land, the community collectively reduces stormwater runoff by 19 million cubic feet during heavy rainfall.
This improvement, along with the cleaner air as a result of the tree planting, increased the value of Garland’s urban forest to an estimated $5.3 million – not a bad payoff for such a simple and easily implementable strategy.
Gets Kids Outside and Playing (Away from Screens)
Another unsung benefit of public parks and recreation services is that it gets citizens, particularly children, outdoors and allows them to simply enjoy each other’s company in a non-cyberspace milieu. With the clear majority of us tethered to your smartphones, tablets or computers every day, it’s refreshing and, at this point, necessary to break that cycle on a regular basis and reconnect with nature.
The rising number of children diagnosed with ADHD is no coincidence, with over 5 million children in the U.S. alone currently confirmed as having the condition. However, children being able to play and interact with others their own age in a park-like environment can have a huge impact on their ADHD symptoms. Psychology Today reported that, in a green setting, children and adults alike are able to focus better and reduce fatigue, regardless of the activity they’re engaged in.
Bringing the Community Together
Finally, we come to perhaps the most important point of all: the fact that Parks and Recreation spaces and programs play a large part in uniting communities and bringing people closer together. In an era where interpersonal communication has never been more fragmented because of rapidly evolving technology, finding time to unplug and spend some quality time with other residents or recreation enthusiasts has become even more valuable.
Moving forward, investing in the growth of community parks and different recreation options for citizens is going to be crucial for future generations of families across North America and around the world. It’s not that Parks and Recreation, as an industry, is far down the totem pole in terms of adopting data-based software tools and using them to optimize the lives of both their residents and staff – it’s that, in more than a few places, these organizations aren’t even on the radar.
To recognize that these services and the hard-working employees behind them are worth that investment is to buy into the value that Parks and Recreation add to a community. The health benefits, both physical and mental, are likely obvious to many out there but the positives of an efficient, thriving agency operating in your city go so much deeper than that.
From a financial, conservational and environmental point of view, only good things can come from pouring more technological resources into the green spaces and recreational outlets that enrich all our lives. Want to find out more about how we can help make those dreams a reality? Contact us today!