National Recreation and Park Association Annual Congress

Dispatch from Salt Lake City…
Once again it is time for the National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA) congress – this year in Salt Lake City. What a great time to be in Utah! It is beautiful here – if a bit windy. This year the Congress is looking a little smaller than usual, presumably due to budgets being slashed across the country. Still there is a great energy here. It is a great time to reconnect with old friends and past clients and see what is new in the world of parks and recreation (see photo).

This year’s keynote speaker, Jim Carroll, encouraged us to pay attention to the future – even embrace it with all of its changes. He emphasized that things are only going to happen faster and we need to be able to respond to keep up and move ahead. It is a good reminder during a time where we are working hard just to put out the fires around us. It is hard to look ahead, but we must do it. He challenged us to think about how parks and recreation can be more responsive, flexible, and on the cutting edge. I guess the response “because we’ve always done it that way” no longer applies.

What does this mean in terms of park design? Providing facilities that keep up with recreation trends? Wiring parks for internet access? Providing spaces for on-line social networking? Installing electronic play equipment? Creating “find a park” and “find a playground” apps for GPS enabled phones? Creating on-line virtual arboretums and amenities inventories for parks?  -OR- How about going the opposite direction, creating spaces where electronics are disabled to encourage face-to-face interaction?

When  I turn this question on my current work as a parks professional, I wonder – “What are we doing in our current work to address the future of parks and recreation?” In a presentation given by Karon Badalamenti of GreenPlay and I, we talked about the future of parks and recreation planning. In our latest projects we have been trying to figure out how to measure Level of Service that includes all things provided by parks and recreation agencies – not just counting things and drawing a circle around them. Ultimately we would like to be able to measure level of service based on quality of experience. That would include all parts of the experience from first thought to memories after. That level of information may really change the way that we look at what we are providing to the public. But we must act fast! The future is quickly approaching!
–Rachel Brenna