Invisible Women

When planners and developers fail to account for gender, public spaces become male spaces by default.

My daughter strongly recommended I read the bestselling book Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed for Men, by Caroline Criado Perez. She helpfully loaned me her electronic copy, and I learned so much from it I bought my own copy. And in turn, I recommend it to you.

Invisible Women, by Caroline Criado Perez

In its pages, the author argues that the gender gap is both a cause and a consequence of the type of unthinking that conceives of humanity as almost exclusively male. It was surprising to me (being exclusively male since birth), how widely and how often this bias crops up, and how it distorts the supposedly objective data that increasingly governs our lives.

She covers a lot of territory. The book’s six parts cover Daily Life, The Workplace, Design, Going to the Doctor, Public Life, and When it Goes Wrong; and includes such intriguing chapters as Can Snow-Clearing be Sexist, Gender Neutral With Urinals, and One-Size-Fits Men.

Of particular interest to park and recreation professionals is a section addressing city and park planning and use. She cites a 2016 article in The Guardian that asked why we aren’t designing places “that work for women, not just men” and cautions that the limited datasets that track and trend data on gender make it hard to develop programs and infrastructure that factor in and meet women’s needs.

For example, planners in Vienna found that the presence of girls in parks and public playgrounds decreased after the age of 10. They subsequently found, through collecting pertinent data, that single large open spaces were the problem, because they forced girls to compete with boys for space—who largely chose not to. But when the developers subdivided the parks into smaller areas, the female dropoff was reversed.

They also addressed the park’s sport facilities. “Originally these spaces were encased in wire fencing on all sides, with only a single entrance area—around which groups of boys would congregate. And the girls, unwilling to run the gauntlet, simply weren’t going in.” The simple solution? More and wider entrances. They also subdivided the open areas and sport courts. Formal sports like basketball were kept intact, but they also provided space for more informal activities, in which girls were more likely to engage.

In another example, Malmos, Sweden, discovered a similar male bias in the way they’d traditionally been planning urban recreation for youth. “The usual procedure was to create spaces for skating, climbing and painting graffiti. The trouble was, it wasn’t ‘youth’ as a whole that was participating… It was almost exclusively boys, with girls making up only 10-20 percent of those who used the city’s youth-directed leisure spaces and facilities.” So they began asking what the girls wanted—and the resultant new areas are well-lit and split into a range of different-sized spaces on different levels.

Such a gender-equitable approach doesn’t just benefit females alone, but extends to the economy. When sports funding goes mainly to organized sports, which is dominated by boys, that which was meant to benefit everyone equally, simply doesn’t. Sometimes girls’ sports aren’t provided for at all, which means girls must pay for them privately, or not participate at all. Such detrimental consequences then ripple into the present and future health of half the population, and the overall economy. One study concluded that a certain increase in the city’s support for girls’ sports could “lead to a 14 percent reduction in future fractures due to osteoporosis, and the investment will have paid for itself.”

Perez concludes that when planners, developers and programmers “fail to account for gender, public spaces become male spaces by default.” This is not a niche concern: “if public spaces are truly to be for everyone, we have to start accounting for the lives of the other half of the world.” It’s not just a matter of justice: it’s also a matter of personal health, welcoming placemaking, social equity, and simple economics. And it starts with collecting meaningful gender-sensitive data.


Celebrating PA State Parks and Forests Week

Snippet: PA State Parks and Forests Week is a time to get outside and play. It is also a time to consider the other benefits our public lands provide to us – and to give back to them in a way that lets you use your “outside voice.”

by Pam Metzger, PA Parks & Forests Foundation

I bet your mother said the same thing to you as mine to me when I posted a question about there not being a “Kids” day if there was a “Mothers Day” and a “Fathers Day.” “Because EVERY DAY is Kids Day,” she’d say.

You might react the same way to the idea of celebrating PA State Parks and Forests Week. When you are immersed in outdoor recreation, EVERY week is Parks and Forests Week! However, in 2018 (the 125th anniversary of the state parks and forests systems), the week between May 23 and May 30 was officially designated as such by Proclamation of the Governor.

And the Pennsylvania Parks & Forests Foundation has been encouraging its celebration ever since.

Why those dates? May 23 represents the anniversary of the establishment of the Commonwealth’s first state park. And while Valley Forge has now gone on to become a national park, the area was designated as a state park first – on May 23, 1893.

And May 30? That is the date on which the Forestry Commission was formed by the General Assembly tasked with forest fire and to establish a forest reserve system. Their first purchase of 7,500 acres in Clinton County (which eventually became Sproul State Forest) happened five years later.

What does it mean to “celebrate” the state parks and forests? Chances are good that you will take any excuse you have to go out and enjoy the public lands near you. After all, Department of Forests and Waters (now DCNR) Secretary Maurice K. Goddard made it the goal of the agency to place a state park within 25 miles of every Pennsylvanian. So you don’t have to work hard to find one of Pennsylvania’s 121 state parks or 20 forest districts.

Still, “celebration” takes on a few forms additional to recreation. We – as you – take care to remind everyone that time spent in the outdoors is vital to our health and well-being. In fact, we commissioned the creation of several videos on the subject of the outdoors and emotional, mental, and physical health, including one in Spanish. Find them (and share them, please) on our YouTube channel, easily accessed at (along with a video on the economic benefits of those same outdoor spaces).

Finally, to celebrate the outdoors means to “use your outside voice” to speak for those places. Pennsylvania’s state parks and forests alone face a $1.4 billion backlog of maintenance and infrastructure projects. Unstable dams, accessible recreation amenities no longer wheelchair or stroller friendly, trees lost to invasive species like hemlock wooly adelgid or emerald ash borer, restrooms and other buildings crucial to visitor contentment compromised. The opportunity to recapture some of that deficient backlog, in the form of $175 million from the American Rescue Plan, is within our reach.

Let’s all celebrate PA Parks & Forests Week by encouraging our state representatives and senators to support HB 2020 and SB 525. Go to to send a message.

Mental Health Awareness

by Jason Cerkan, Recreation Manager, A Pocono Country Place, Property Owners Association

The pandemic has been filled with ups and downs and many mixed emotions, information, and knowledge. From isolation to fear of the unknown many people we know may have experienced some form of depression that they may not have experienced before. Isolation led to many unfit people.

When someone is not leading a healthy lifestyle, we often times look at the outcomes in physical fitness terms. Seldom do we talk about mental health and the role it plays in our lives and the illness that may occur. People can not see how another person is truly feeling inside. Mental health impacts everyone’s quality of life and includes our passions, relationships, and experiences. Someone can be born with a genetic predisposition for a mental illness. Our brains can also sustain psychological traumas.

How To Be Supportive

When someone experiences a mental health challenge, here is how you can be supportive:

LISTEN: Let someone really express their experiences. Being someone they can talk to is essential when giving support.

BE NON-JUDGMENTAL: Don’t criticize or minimize the way they feel. You may not be able to understand exactly what they’re going through, and that’s ok.

ASK WHAT, NOT WHY: When you ask questions, avoid asking ‘why’ questions, and instead ask ‘what’ questions. Asking why can have a judgmental tone even if you don’t mean it that way.

GIVE INFORMATION – DON’T DIAGNOSE: Don’t assume they have an illness or condition. Provide direction to resources that can identify and treat mental health issues.

ACT AS A BRIDGE: You can connect someone to mental health resources. Resources include family, school guidance, mental health professionals, and organizations like Navigate Hope.

TEAMMATE IN SUPPORT: Being supportive doesn’t mean your duty is to ‘fix’ someone. Mental health is complicated and solutions aren’t overnight. As a teammate, the best support you can give is by being a trusting ear, helping to navigate resources, and acting as a source of encouragement.

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic there were many people who would not have otherwise been lonely, depressed or down. It is important that we acknowledge mental health not only for ourselves but for others. We need to embrace open communication of mental health challenges and be able to provide direction to help others before crisis arises. There is no shame in asking for help. There are tools and treatments to respond, treat and manage mental health issues.

Are we building people—or just running programs?

If recreation and parks are really essential services, are we measuring what truly matters?

Part of why recreation and parks doesn’t receive more of the rave respect it deserves, in my opinion, is because most people notice programs far more than the objectives behind them.

That’s not surprising. It’s always easier to focus on outward expressions than on internal improvements of the mind, body and soul.

When the summer pop-up gathering space arrives on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, so do outdoor yoga, fitness challenges and games galore. Tucked between the Philadelphia Museum of Art and Philadelphia’s City Hall, the family-friendly urban park attracts a friendly, laid-back crowd with food, music, beer gardens, movies, golf, games and more. Credit: Visit Philadelphia.

But that’s where the common disconnect begins, I believe.

When we providers declare that recreation and parks are essential community services, what does that mean to our constituents? What is our bottom-line purpose of enabling quality leisure experiences? And are we cognizant enough of it?

• Is it just a walk in the park—or is it physical exercise, stress relief and mental rejuvenation?

• Is it merely a Paint With Me class (with wine!)—or is it stretching skills and enriching relationships?

• Is soccer practice just about scoring a trophy—or is it developing fine motor skills, building teamwork, modeling good sportsmanship, and growing cooperative social interactions among diverse teens, teams and talents?

• Is it merely an object of public art—or is it celebrating a cultural heritage, invigorating a downtown district, connecting destinations, and attracting visitors, tourists and new businesses?

• Is it just an evening activity—or is it character development, anti-ganging intervention, and preventative treatment for abusive and addictive behaviors?

Are we strategically planning with such measurable outcomes in mind, or are we satisfied that it was “fun”?

Here’s the crux: Are we building people—or just running programs? Are we purposefully collaborating with experts from other disciplines in meeting people’s needs? And are we measuring what truly matters?

Because here’s the other just-as-important part of our jobs: we must show it.

Moving beyond ROIs, attendees, and social media stats, are we documenting personal and social good in our value statements? Can we point to specific cases of cleaner resources, less waste, crises averted, problems solved, and healthier lifestyles? Are we enriching our neighbors’ lives, improving the livability of our cities, and ensuring a more equitable future?

If we are to convince a wider audience of the great worth of our indispensable services (and, in turn, influence higher funding and priorities by decision makers), we must deliver whole goods. We can’t merely insist that recreation and parks are essential, we must intentionally demonstrate it—and prove it!

Why You Should Celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the Pennsylvania Environmental Rights Amendment

What will you be doing on May 18? Did you think that date was just like any other? Well, it is much more than that… it is the 50th anniversary of the Pennsylvania Environmental Rights Amendment (ERA)… and that means it is a time to celebrate!

The Pennsylvania Environmental Rights Amendment

The people have a right to clean air, pure water, and to the preservation of the natural, scenic, historic and esthetic values of the environment. Pennsylvania’s public natural resources are the common property of all the people, including generations yet to come. As trustee of these resources, the Commonwealth shall conserve and maintain them for the benefit of all the people.

A young legislator from Sunbury, PA named Franklin Kury introduced this amendment to the state constitution in April of 1969. Environmental protection, he said, “has now become as vital to the good life— indeed, to life itself—as the protection of those fundamental political rights, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of religion, of peaceful assembly and of privacy.”

At first you might wonder, are environmental rights really as important as the right to free speech? But think about it…consider the mental and physical health benefits we get from a clean environment, not to mention myriad economic benefits as well.

The Benefits of Environmental Rights

Pennsylvania is lucky to have a wealth of public lands that are free and open to anyone to use. Spending time in these places is great for your health. Studies show that outdoor recreation reduces stress, anxiety and depression, lowers the risk of obesity, helps regulate blood sugar and cholesterol levels, and reduces your risk of cardiovascular issues.

The trees in our parks and forests remove pollutants in rainwater before it can reach our rivers and streams, and from the air before we breathe it in. These same trees help to reduce flooding, by slowing the rate of water movement, reducing flood control and water treatment costs.

Having the funding support to build new playgrounds, like this one at Blue Knob State Park, is thanks in part to the Environmental Rights Amendment.

How You Can Celebrate

The Pennsylvania Parks and Forests Foundation (PPFF) invites you to participate in a different engagement activity each month to show your support for environmental conservation and public lands.

  • In May, you may submit a piece of visual art on the topic of “what preservation of the scenic value” means to you.
  • On May 18, join PPFF, StateImpact Pennsylvania, and WITF for a free virtual screening and panel discussion on the ERA’s anniversary.
  • In June, you can submit an essay on cultural resources in our parks and forests, discussing what “preservation of the historic value” means to you.
  • Along with the monthly art and writing submissions, now through August 1, 2021 people can submit to a song contest.

View the complete list of ways to engage at and be sure to follow #PAEnviroRights50 to find more ways to engage with and celebrate this landmark piece of legislation.

Staging a new ACT

When we meet active, even hostile resistance, how can we begin to facilitate an effective conversation?

It was quite an angry voicemail message I received last Monday: “I WANT TO KNOW WHY YOU THINK I NEED DIVERSITY TRAINING! DON’T SEND ME ANY MORE!  THIS IS JUST A COMMUNIST…! I CAN’T EVEN TALK ABOUT IT!” And abruptly disconnected.

This was apparently in response to our recent notices about the PRPS diversity webinars by Mauricio Velásquez of the Diversity Training Group, which was sent out to all our members and a list of potential members. I can only hope he was in the latter category.

A couple of immediate thoughts came to me:

  • You didn’t tell me who you are, so I don’t know who to stop sending this to!
  • Perhaps he felt he was being singled out by our bulk email that customizes the greeting with a first name. (He wouldn’t be the first. Years ago at another agency, I had a board member who thought everything I wrote about improving leadership and relationships was about him, and resented me picking on him—until I explained that I always sent them to everyone. (“… Oh!”) He was then fine about it; although a bit embarrassed.)
  • Since many people are sensitive about their secret flaws, perhaps we smacked a nerve on this.
  • On the other hand, since he alluded to diversity training as being communistic, he’s likely affixed to quite a different perspective.
  • People naturally feel threatened and tend to react strongly when they feel they are losing power, prestige, control, influence, or elevated status to others who are different from them.
  • If I had been able to talk with him, I probably would have asked him why he was so angry, and perhaps worked a way out of a misunderstanding. Who knows? But since I couldn’t, I’m left to only guess why “diversity” rattled him so badly he had to rant on my voice mail. (A little later, our Communications Manager received an email with this in the subject line: “You can shove your diversity training you nowhere [sic]”.)

In these times of sociopolitical polarities, resistance to what we have to say shouldn’t surprise us. While those within our profession may largely hold these truths to be self-evident, our proclamations about the value of parks, their essential nature, social equity, equal access, and the need for increased funding (among many others), are not universally well-received.

All our advocacy needs to be supported by education, documentation, data, and sound reasoning. But even if we can make an unassailable case for our cause, our communication cannot begin to be effective until it becomes two-way, in an open exchange of ideas, perspectives, and other viewpoints, and both parties achieve better understanding—and perhaps transformed behaviors and policies. This is not a job for the faint of heart!

The same day I received that voice mail, the PRPS staff were engaged in a professional training centering on leadership types and communication styles. We all gained deeper insights about ourselves, and how to better understand each other. Even though we already work very well together, I found it very interesting that, out of the nine of us, we display eight different communication styles! And that’s among people who agree on a lot in common and even like each other!

Which brings us back to my angry caller, and the next time we meet active, even hostile, resistance. How can we even begin to facilitate an effective conversation?

I certainly don’t have all the answers (after all, I’m a recovering hothead myself!). But I will leave you with this valuable tool in the Communications Guide from the Government Alliance on Race & Equity (GARE). While it’s presented within the framework of racial equity, the technique can work in all areas of conflict. As you know, people who are fighting aren’t communicating. The acronym is ACT:

Affirm. Begin by affirming core values that your listener or audience shares with this effort. Reinforce the idea that we’re all in this together.

Counter. Explain the challenge, focusing on the institutional and structural drivers that have created and maintained racial inequity. Be explicit about race, contrasting reality with the vision and values you’ve shared. Use facts and stories to persuade your listener of the reality and importance of the problem.

Transform. Start with heart, reiterate that we’re all in this together, and offer your audience or listener a concrete step they can take or we can take together to transform our current reality into the vision we share.

If we continue to ACT, we can facilitate better communication with all those we serve.

Advocacy for Parks and Recreation – Part 2

by Dan Hendey, CPRP, CPSI, Education Manager

Long Term Advocacy

Advocacy in the moment is important. However, long-term advocacy efforts will reap the largest rewards for your organization.  While immediate concerns and annual budgets can often take priority, all leaders recognize the importance of investing time in long-term planning, strategy, and professional development.

The goals of long-term advocacy are to develop and cultivate continuing relationships with decision-makers, build credibility for yourself and the department, become a trusted resource, and be recognized as an essential community service. 

Develop relationships

As mentioned earlier, there is no substitution for developing relationships with decision-makers.  Relationships built on trust and mutual respect promote honest dialogue, are open to persuasion, and often result in a team approach to problem-solving.  There are many ways to build relationships, but they all start with the concept of inclusion.  Ask decision-makers to volunteer, attend, or even speak at your events.  Find opportunities to pop-in, talk, or ask for their assistance or advice—volunteer to assist them on some project or action.  Be creative; how you do this will vary, but reaching out to each decision-maker is important. 

Developing strong relationships in the community is also critical.  Often it is the advisory boards, non-profit organizations, and community activists who can assist you the most.  Unlike elected officials, many of these voices do not change office every several years and are freer to engage in supportive activities for your agency.  When I started at my department, I volunteered to provide sportsmanship and first aid training for all the PAL baseball coaches. When it came time to request new playground equipment, the PAL championed my efforts.  In addition to the advocacy, community members and groups can also be enlisted to write Op-eds to support your agency, offer input on programs and plans, and provide valuable volunteer assistance.  Decision-makers, especially elected public officials, listen when citizens talk, especially on the local level.  You need to educate these individuals and groups by holding information and feedback meetings, reaching out to community leaders, business owners, health professionals, and other department heads to hear their ideas and to educate them on the importance of recreation.  This is also an ideal time to listen and identify opportunities for mutual benefit either through partnerships, dual promotion, or complimentary services. 

Seek Input

Also, it is important to reach out to the whole community when planning.  This can be done through surveys, focus groups, community meetings, and interviews.  Each method has positive and negative aspects, and some thought is needed when deciding on your most effective tool.  Seeking input from the community comes with an unspoken commitment for action on your part.  Your integrity and community trust will be affected by what you do with the gathered information. 

Be a Resource

Another path for long term advocacy is to become a resource for the community and decision-makers.  Your words matter, and so does your ability to provide correct and timely information on issues involving Recreation and Parks.  You and your agency should be the information source that the community and decision-makers depend on for recreation and park issues. 

Become Essential

As a recreation professional, what you do is important and can be essential but is usually not urgent.  During times of crises (fires, floods, riots, COVID, and other calamities), the important often takes a back seat to the urgent.  Developing skills in emergency services such as first aid, policing, local distribution, food preparation, and social services or incorporating your facilities into the response can add to your department’s value when dealing with a community crisis.  Where I worked, several neighborhoods within were located on a riverside and flooded periodically.  I became quite skilled at setting up the community room as a shelter and working with the health, fire, and police department in housing and feeding those who were uprooted for the duration of the flood.  I planned for these events and soon became part of the emergency management team.  Several recreation departments in Pennsylvania have also participated in helping their communities during COVID by warehousing and distributing food to those in need, serving student lunches, and helping health service workers to screen visitors and patients.  Being able to help and participate in a crisis will make you more essential to a community.

Seek Professional Development

My last suggestion to build long term advocacy is to seek professional development.  There are many great books, excellent teachers, and fantastic courses and presentations out there that can help you to go where you want to go. As a greenhorn, I learned early on that there was much to be gained by being prepared, knowledgeable, and open.  Long term advocacy means that you must continue to meet, educate, and convince those around you of your professionalism, your department’s competency, and the necessity of your services, programs, and facilities.  Community needs, like people, can change over time. Your job is to assess those needs, plan for them, and meet them effectively and efficiently. Professional development can expand your knowledge and provide you with the tools to accomplish your goals.  Five to 10 percent of your time (2-4 hours) each week should be committed to professional development. 

Don’t be afraid to ask and ask again

As someone who runs an agency, department, or supervises others, you will be in a position to advocate.  My father once told me, “You don’t get what you don’t ask for,” and it stuck.  I remember this whenever I need to make a difficult ask. If your request is denied, find out why.  Use the experience to examine your idea and make appropriate changes or find a better way to sell it.  Don’t let a single rejection stop you.  Often folks need time and multiple requests before they are convinced to support a project or program.  Having the nerve to ask is half the battle; successfully advocating is what will get you over the line. 

In summary, advocacy takes time and effort.  However, taking steps in the short and long term can yield significant benefits for you and your organization.  While everyone’s situation is unique, common strategies such as education, fostering personal connections, addressing needs, and developing persistence can reap the rewards for anyone in a position to advocate.  Your mandate lies in the constitution and your firm belief in the value of recreation.  I cannot think of better reasons.

Sources/links for article

PA State Consititution

Greener Parks for Health – NRPA Communication Toolkit

What is Advocacy? Definitions and Examples; Bolder Advocacy, Alliance for Justice

Becoming a Recreation and Parks Champion

Re-Positioning to Be Essential; Senator Joe Simitians’s Tips for Successful Advocacy. Presented at the 2011 PRPS annual conference

Investing in Equitable Urban Park Systems Elridge, Burrowes, Spauster; Urban Institute July 2019

Green Infrastructure and Health– A Literature Review; NRPA and the Williamette Partnership.

Community Engagement Resource Guide: Creating Equitable Access to High-Performing Parks, NRPA 2019

Awareness and the Use of Parks, NRPA, 2019

Why Parks Matter, Paul Levy City Center Digest, Aug, 2019

Advocacy for Parks and Recreation – Part 1

by Dan Hendey, CPRP, CPSI, Education Manager, PRPS

PA Constitution, Article 1, Section 27

The people have the right to clean air, pure water, and to the preservation of the natural, scenic, and esthetic values of the environment.  Pennsylvania’s public natural resources are the common property of all the people, including the generations to come.  As a trustee of these resources, the Commonwealth shall conserve and maintain them for the benefit of all the people.

During my first year as a young recreation director for a small borough in New Jersey, I had to present my budget for the year to the town council for discussion and approval.  I spent weeks preparing the budget and developing some capital requests to improve and expand the borough’s parks and facilities. 

I arrived at the town hall to find the council members, mayor, borough manager, and other officials sitting above and behind a raised dais looking down on me while I sat at the table in the center of the room.  I felt like I was on trial and lost a good deal of my confidence right then.  Once we began, it became clear that several members of the council were not fans of recreation, and the oldest, most wrinkled, member questioned the need for any parks or programs.  He challenged every line in my budget and railed against all of my capital proposals.  He led a coalition to cut my budget and deny most improvement outlays, and I left that day hurt, disillusioned, and saddled with a smaller budget.  How could anyone be against parks when I knew how valuable they were?  This was my first lesson in the importance of advocacy.

Advocacy can be defined as any action that supports, recommends, or argues for a cause on behalf of others.  For me, advocacy is selling something you strongly believe.  As professionals in the field, we understand the importance of being outdoors, physical activity, socialization, and building community.  We understand what the writers of the Pennsylvania Constitution meant when they declared that our natural resources need to be preserved and maintained for generations to come.  However, others may not understand the intrinsic values of parks and recreation. We have a duty to share this knowledge and conviction with decision-makers, who directly affect our departments and organizations. 

With a new budget year approaching and the upheaval brought on by COVID-19, it is more important than ever to be able to state your case for the present and build future support. 

Short Term Advocacy

As an employee of an organization, you must be able to advocate for your position, your department, your programs, your facilities, and your services.  All these areas are folded into your budget.  Therefore, your most efficient form of advocacy is promoting and defending your budget, and this coming year will be critical.  What are some things you can do to advocate for your next budget? 

Have a Plan

First, it is crucial to have a plan.  The National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA) strongly recommends having a comprehensive management plan to guide you and the department.  These documents are valuable as they incorporate public input, local realities, agency strengths and needs, and plans for the future.  However, this past year was probably not anticipated in that plan.  It is time to pull out the plan and review its recommendations in a new light to identify your wants and your needs.  Every public agency will likely feel the economic sting of the COVID crises. Now is the time to determine what is most central for your organization and focus your efforts on preserving and protecting your needs, whether they are employees, programs, projects, or facilities.  Having a plan for the coming year that remains consistent with the master plan yet incorporates some anticipated realities will prepare you to advocate for the things that matter most. When assessing a need versus a want, I believe that good people are the hard to replace or rehire and having staff on hand can lead to a faster recovery when funding opens up again.

Build your Case. 

It is unlikely that those who control your budget are as knowledgeable as you about the value of parks and healthy recreation.  Your job is to educate them.  Providing usage data will appeal to those who want to justify community expenditures.  Make the data easily understandable and accessible.  Include relevant data in an introduction to your budget requests.  Accumulate testimonials for your agency and parks and share them on your website.  Use regular social media posts to create and maintain TOMA (Top of Mind Awareness).  Steer decision-makers to your website and social media sites before the start of the budget session as a way for them to get to know you, or invite them to a function (or zoom session/activities).  If parks, facilities, or programs are having problems, don’t shy away from them, be honest, and offer a solution on how they would be corrected with the requested funds.  Be solution-oriented and prepared to explain how the funding will fix problems or provide needed services.

Be Professional

During your budget meeting, you must present yourself and your organization in a professional manner.  Decision-makers care about their community and can be open to persuasion if they are convinced that the good created is worth the cost.  Because you are dealing with people, it is a good idea to include some human interest stories to support the facts that you present.  Personalizing the data can help them to make the value connection of recreation.  Is there a local lifeguard who did something special after his time at the pool?  How did the kids and families in your community benefit from your summer camp program?  Or how were the parks used creatively this year due to the COVID crises?  Have these stories ready to help emphasize a point or add a bit of color to the data. 

Be Friendly

Getting to know your decision-makers is and will continue to be a vital aspect of successful advocacy.  While I am not recommending stalking, Knowing about their work, family, hobbies, and interests will help you strike a chord and tailor your presentations.  Meet and talk with them whenever you get the chance.  Highlight areas and activities that will benefit their neighborhood. 

Also, Treat everyone with respect and expect the same.  This was my mistake during my first budget meeting.  I let myself be intimidated, and I should have done a better job of advocating for my department. There are ways to be assertive and direct without offending, and there are numerous resources available to help you, both written and personal.  After my first budget meeting, the borough engineer took me aside and offered me the following advice.  “Next time, just imagine that no one was wearing pants under the dais and try not to laugh.”  This little tip improved my budget meeting performance for the next several years.

Nice Ending

Try to end on a good note.  Remember that sometimes you will not get everything you want, and you must be able to deal with the outcome.  Budgets are annual, and there is always next year.  Even with a disappointing budget number, you may still have some leeway on how the dollars are appropriated among the line items.  No harm will ever come from offering each decision-maker a thank you message for taking the time and effort to review and evaluate your budget.  Build for the long term.

Part 2 will continue next week to discuss Long Term Advocacy.

Who you gonna call? Parks and Rec!

A fresh perspective on funding recreation and parks as an indispensable service in a post-pandemic recovery

Schuylkill Banks TrailIt’s as predictable as gaping baby birds and late-winter potholes, all crying to be filled. Come budget time, municipal park and recreation services perennially want for funding.

In a 2017 national study conducted by Penn State University, researchers found that 83 percent of local governmental officials viewed parks and recreation as worth the average tax investment in their communities. An overwhelming majority (99 percent) agree their community benefits from local parks. Yet during fiscal deficits, park and recreation services are cut the most severely of all community services.

Why is this? According to the research, local officials simply do not perceive park and recreation services to be as important as the others. Follow the money: in flush times, all services reap increases; but during economic downturns, park and rec services are dramatically and disproportionally cut.

However, far beyond providing mere leisure services, a comprehensive park and rec system vigorously builds the community, contributing to our individual wellness and public health, our environmental sustainability and our social equity. Its facilities and programs stimulate the local economy, enhance real estate values, attract and retain business, improve community infrastructure, build resilience, and reduce crime. Its enrichments expand community engagement, develop people, and contribute directly to our quality of life. All because it constructively addresses broad-based community problems.

And this is the niche recreation and parks fills better than any other essential community service: the unique ability to bridge across multiple professional disciplines and political boundaries to facilitate comprehensive solutions to real community problems. Need to curb gang-related activities? Or assist police and social services in preventative treatment for risky behaviors? Call parks and rec. Need to coordinate the distribution of meals? After schools, parks and rec serve up the most. Need first responders in an emergency and a safe place to rendezvous? Parks and rec, at your service. Concerned about access to nature and clean air and water? Need multimodal connections to destinations of interest? Looking to build more cross-cultural respect and interaction? Boost student achievement and engagement? Attract more public-private partnerships? Who you gonna call? Parks and rec!

Fortunately, more cities and communities are beginning to realize that it is always to their benefit to incorporate and prioritize park and recreation services within other life-essential services.

It’s time for a fresh perspective on what makes community services essential: one that recognizes how they are collectively interdependent and indispensable for our modern living. I call it the Life Essentials Community Services Model.

This comprehensive view recognizes that each service sector, alone, would fail the community; but when fulfilling its interactive function within the whole, all people are indispensably protected, enriched and supported. There are three life-enhancing categories:

·  Life Protection: Firefighters, Police, Emergency Services, Hospitals, Corrections, Preventative Services.
·  Life Support: Transportation, Infrastructure, Sanitation, Utilities, Housing, Public Welfare, Clean Air, Water and Natural Resources.
·  Life Quality: Parks and Recreation, Education and Culture, Health and Nutrition, Libraries, Social Services.

In this balanced view, we can better grasp how interdependent our life-essential services truly are. And how the care and use of our public parks and greenspaces is uniquely capable of leveraging limited resources and expertise in all categories to protect, support, and enhance lifestyles and the kind of recovery we need.

The pandemic will likely continue to exact a heavy economic toll on municipal governments and their public spaces—affecting workforce, childcare, food distribution, access to nature, environmental safety, youth development, and of course, our physical and mental health, among many other vital human needs. Now is the time to embrace just how indispensable comprehensive park and recreation services are to the quality of our communities—and to invest—not divest—for our own vitally important recovery and preferred future.

Parks and Rec in the Time of Corona

Love in the Time of Cholera, written by Gabriel Garcia Marquez in 1985, has become a modern literary classic. It follows a young couple in love, torn apart multiple times by fathers, communities, circumstances, infidelity, who in the end somehow see all those scars as beautiful experiences and grow old together. The book’s title is completely misleading, cholera only plays a minor part in the story. The coronavirus is not playing a minor role in our story right now.

The coronavirus has come in like a thief in the night, virtually by day break changing they way Americans see and interact with the world around them. So much of what we do as park and recreation professionals relies on people wanting and needing to be near each other, and that is just not an option right now.

I wish I had answers for every question swirling in my head, because I know the PRPS membership has the very same questions. We are still vital. We are still essential. One only has to look at the crazy spike in trail use across Pennsylvania to see that our residents still need our parks in their lives. Programming is the hurdle, day to day, that’s what we do. One could argue that our programming efforts are MORE important now than ever. With families stuck inside 24/7, we can play an integral role in making that a beautiful experience rather than a destructive one. Convert as much as you can to online platforms and get active in new ways, host a food drive or maybe create a COVID mask sewing group.

But it can’t stop there. I ask you to do two more things.

One, tell your Township Managers and elected officials about your programming and have residents email them that what you are doing is vitally important. Literally, email residents and say “please email the Township Supervisors” that this Teddy Bear Hunt was important to your six year old. How many of us have been to a Supervisors meeting and seen decisions flipped or postponed based on one resident’s opinion in the crowd? I certainly have. Plant that resident.

And two, share your programming and communication ideas, successes and failures with your fellow PRPS members. Whether that is simply through your neighboring municipalities, a PRPS District or through the Facebook “What’s Up P & R” page we are collectively Stronger Together.

I am an eternally positive person, and I know we will come out better for this “Parks and Rec in the Time of Corona” experience. But we do have a dogfight ahead of us. Our residents need us right now. Our families need us right now, and we need each other right now. Let’s roll up our sleeves and be Stronger Together.

Take care!


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