Adding Some Spice to a Stale Relationship

Young couple having relationship problemsPlus 6 tips for better abs, and 7 great ideas for holiday gifts!

We are so conditioned to look for a time saving fix or an easy upgrade to fix anything in our lives that is feeling tired or old or used or outdated – and yet we content ourselves with our current facilities because any change seems too hard, too expensive, or too out of reach.

But have no fear – there may be hope.  in 2009 and 2011 our agency completely renovated two swimming pools – and I mean completely.  We tore out everything down to the hole in the ground – pools, bath houses, utilities…everything.  And we rebuilt.  And the new facilities were a smashing success.  Revenues and attendance more than doubled, and the pools became operationally self-sustaining.  Yay! We met our goals!

But that was, like, so 8 years ago.  The honeymoon is over.  Our community, which used to be super excited at the new pools, is now conditioned to expect that level of entertainment.  So what’s next?  Well, as much as we’d love to spend another $1 million on a flowrider surf machine, that’s just waaaaay outside of the budget picture.aquatics_slide_show_2_0

So how can we add some spice to this stale relationship that the public is having with our facility?  Lucky for me we live in PA and have this thing called ‘Winter’ that lets me do some research and admin work to find solutions.

1. Toys.  Toys are fun.  They cost money – but they can be an easy way to immediately change the recreation atmosphere at a facility.  For the pools, we added a climbing wall and a floating obstacle course (ours is a Wibit, but there are others out there).  We’re also looking at giant hamster balls, log rolling, zip lines, noodle jousting on inflatable ducks – and lots of other ideas.  We had instant success with purchasing these items for public use.  Indoor facilities have many similar features available – just do some research.

2.  Programs.  We regularly try new programs at the pools.  Three years ago we worked with our high school diving coach to add springboard diving lessons to go along with our already robust swim lesson program.  Last year we borrowed the Start Smart program concept and ran swim lessons where our instructor-led parents through a course teaching their own kids to swim.

3.  Events.  Disco night?  Maybe a little outdated, but what about a dance night with a DJ or live band?  Cardboard boat races?  Dog swim?  Fishing Derby after the season?  Pool-o-Ween?  There are lots of ideas already out there – or you can combine some and make your own!

Those are just a few ideas, but really here are the key points:

  •  Make the time to regularly evaluate your facilities and operations.  Get rid of stale programs or events.  Create new ones to replace them.
  • Budget for some new items, even if you have to spread the purchases over a few years.  They can make an immediate impact.
  • Do some research.  Thanks to the internet there are tons of ideas out there already.  You often don’t have to reinvent the wheel, just borrow ideas from other successful facilities!  You can also get a lot of great ideas from conferences and expos.

As for the 6 tips for better abs:

1. Eat Less

2. Eat Better

3. Exercise more

4. Repeat

And the 7 holiday gift ideas?

1. Ask them what they want.  7 times.

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Recreation and Parks’ Internet of Things

How parks and recreation contribute to everything important!

Love ParkHow parks and recreation contribute to everything important!

In the spirit of bringing holistic thinking and collaborative services to solving people problems, this simple list depicts how park and recreation systems contribute to improving personal and community living. By no means is it comprehensive, so please add your suggestions to expand this view!

Health & Wellness
Healthcare Costs
Healthcare Delivery
Medical Recovery & Immune Benefits
Connection to Nature for Human Health
Alleviation of Stress, Depression & AD disorders
Physical Activity & Healthy Lifestyles
Physical, Mental, Emotional Therapy
Mitigate Obesity and Chronic Diseases
Youth & Family Development
Nutrition, Healthy Food Production & Choices
Preventative Treatment for Criminal & Risky Behaviors
Prevention & Response for Opioids & Drug Abuse
Improved Functioning of People with Special Needs
Evidence-based Health Improvement Programs
Tobacco Bans in Public Spaces

Environmental Sustainability
Wildlife Habitat Preservation
Carbon Sequestration
Water Quality & Supply
Wetlands Protection & Riparian Buffers
Biodiversity
Energy Costs & Conservation
Pollution Reduction
Air Quality
Connections to Nature
Brownfields Restoration
Climate Change
Preservation & Conservation
Heat Island Reduction
Natural Resource Management
Stormwater Management
Conservation Best Practices

Social Equity
Community & Neighborhood Engagement
Access to Economic and Socio-cultural Goods
Diversity & Inclusion
Cross-cultural Respect & Interaction
Gentrification
Children & Youth Services
Child Nutrition & Food Distribution
Equal Access to Parks & Recreation Services
Underserved Populations
Health Disparities
Neighborhood Green Spaces
Social Justice & Public Administration
Workforce Development

Economic Stimulation
Destination Tourism
Placemaking & Events
Concessions & Vendors
Connective Trails, Water Trails
Recreational and Cultural Attractions
Business Development & Attraction
Employment & Workforce Development
Recreation & Sports Equipment Sales
Property Values
Zoning & Enterprise Districts
Outdoor Recreation Industry
Growth of the Sharing Economy

Infrastructure & Resiliency
Multimodal transportation
Urban Planning
Traffic Mitigation
Caretaking & Maintenance
Gentrification
Trail Access & Connectivity
Stormwater Management
Disaster & Emergency Preparedness
“Clean, Safe & Ready-to-Use”
Streetscapes
Climate Change Adaptation & Mitigation
Landscape Architectural Design
Facilities & Resource Management
Technologies & Work Automation
Big Data & Anticipatory Intelligence

People Development
Community Leadership
Teambuilding and Collaborations
Personal Productivity & Creativity
Student Achievement & Engagement
Risk Resilience
Creative Play
Physical, Cognitive, Social & Emotional Development
Experiential & Lifelong Learning

Community Livability
Safety & Crime Mitigation
Placemaking
Historical and Cultural Preservation
Community Engagement
Forums for Public Art, Entertainment & Expression
Children & Youth Services
Safeguard Park Visitors and Recreationists
Public Spaces & Green Infrastructure
Urban Blight Mitigation
Connective Trails
Public-Private Partnerships
Business Development & Attraction
Research, Public Education & Advocacy

Recreation & Leisure
Aquatics & Athletics
Parks and Park Amenities
Arenas and Event Venues
Concessions and Supplies
Healthy Competition
Nature & Environmental Centers
Hunting & Fishing
Active & Passive Leisure Activities
Cultural & Historical Interpretation
Public Assets & Spaces
Community Gardens & Special Use Spaces
Integrated Services across Disciplines & Jurisdictions
Positive Youth, Family & Adult Development
Quality & Enrichment of Life

A Tangible Reminder

Remind Finger

A few years ago I decided to rip out our hallway restroom while my wife and son went away for the long Columbus Day weekend. The vanity and lighting were from the 70’s, the door and some of the vinyl flooring was chewed up from a puppy training experiment gone wrong, and everything was in a desperate need of an update. Now I consider myself “handy-ish”, but not an expert by any stretch. I spent the next four days demoing, picking out new finishes, paint colors, watching some Youtube tutorials on cutting angles for trim and wainscoting, and largely living in that 8 x 6 area like it was a cell from Shawshank Redemption. After my second 18 hour day, I was beginning to daydream about what else I could have done with all my “me time”. It mostly consisted of seeing how far into an NHL season I could get on my PS3, or how many hours of binge watching the latest peak TV series I’d relinquished in hopes of surprising my family.

By mid-day Monday of that Columbus Day weekend, the transformation was beginning to take shape and by the time my family arrived home later that evening, we had an entirely new bathroom. From the mirror and lighting to the sink and vanity to the flooring and wall treatment, everything was updated. Beyond surprising my family and seeing their smiles, I sat back and felt proud about the work I had put in. There was a visible transformation in front of me that I was responsible for.

I often think about projects such as this while I’m sitting behind a computer at work. I think about how tangible and immediate the satisfaction of that project was and how in our line of work that isn’t always the case. Now yes, there are special events, park and trail projects as well as new facility construction that scratch that visual satisfaction itch. Something as simple as a clean pool or a freshly cut athletic field can give me that feeling too. What I’m referring to is the day to day administrative grind of reviewing budget numbers, facility bookings, programming, payroll, insurance and preparing report after report after report. And yes, there are some that really enjoy a great spreadsheet or pie chart, and I can appreciate that as well (where my excel-heads at?!), but it never comes close to the satisfaction gained from a concrete accomplishment.

It was around this time that I found myself at one of our parks in the evening. It was such a different environment than the daytime crowd that we experience during business hours. It hummed with activity as tennis lessons and pick up-basketball created the rhythm section for the evening’s soundtrack. The athletic fields were in full swing, and friends chatted leisurely as they meandered around the walking trail. Children buzzed through the playground equipment with their imaginations in full overdrive. It. Was. Awesome! It was also a complete “duh” moment for me. THIS is the tangible outcome of the work we do!

Ever since that ah-ha moment, I’ve encouraged my staff to make sure they get out and experience the many accomplishments of all their time and energy. It can be as simple as popping into a program, or taking a day trip, or just going for a walk through a park or trail. The faces of the many individuals and families enjoying the work you’ve put in and seeing these wonderful facilities in use has been a much needed reminder of where to look for that visible, real time satisfaction. If you are like me, it’s all too easy to put in your eight (plus) hours staring at a screen, glued to a desk covered in papers. It is so vital to get out and experience the wheels you’ve help put in motion, born from the passion you’ve put into it, and to feel the pride that accompanies you when you sit back and take stock of your work. And if that doesn’t work, you can always renovate a bathroom.

I am the greatest…and so are you!!!

If I stood in front of one hundred random people and flashed a picture of the boxer to the left, and said, “Who is this?”, everyone would say, “It’s obviously Muhammad Ali.” If I pressed a little further and asked for an Ali quote, I am sure someone would tell the group that he famously said, “I am the greatest!.”

If I asked the audience the same question about the boxer to the right, how many would know his name? That gentleman is Mr. Sugar Ray Robinson, owner of a professional boxing record of 173 wins and 19 losses. Notwithstanding Ali’s boasts, Robinson is considered the greatest boxer of all time, but most of us have never heard of him.

You are probably wondering, where’s the analogy here? It’s all about perception. Ali was a master of public perception, while Robinson was just a master with the gloves. When it comes to park and recreation professionals, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania has some of the best and brightest minds in the business. But at the end of the day, we all go back to our Boroughs, Townships, and Cities and our performance is evaluated almost exclusively by our residents and elected officials.

Therein lies your opportunity. Your community’s perception of your department, your programs and parks and ultimately, your value, can be steered by unleashing your inner Muhammad Ali! He wasn’t the greatest, but he said he was…and now the general public believes it.

There are a few ways you can cultivate public perception. Tell people about your successes. It sounds simple enough, but your community needs to know their investment in parks and recreation is worthwhile. It may be a pain in the butt, but every department should complete an end of year report with facts, figures, pictures and a clearly framed progression towards goals. Boast about your programs, your staff, your parks. Quantification is also useful, numbers mean something. I’ve started to use the iSOPARC (System for the Observing Play and Recreation in Communities) to leverage park user totals into data findings that are impactful. In 2017, I was able to report to my Board of Supervisors, that our parks had over 225,000 visitors that translated into a health care savings of $7.3M! Did I mention iSOPARC is completely free to use, all you need is an iPad!

Just as boxers (and WWE wrestlers) seek the championship belt, park and recreation professionals should also submit their best programs for awards. Our communities and elected officials have limited knowledge of the truly positive impact the parks and recreation field has on quality of life. But do you know what they do understand…awards. Elected officials love to come to ceremonies, shake hands, stand for photos and that is a good thing. That is part of their role, and part of your role should be delivering them those opportunities. Practically speaking, our residents have so many recreational pursuits they can take part in, its a competitive field. Pasting a big flashy gold sticker on your program flyer that says “award winner” instantly gives you credibility before you’ve even said, “want to sign up” or “25% sibling discount.”

You might be saying right now, I hate to boast, I hate to brag. The field of parks and recreation is an amazing profession. We teach kids to swim, ride bikes, feed families, combat obesity, breakdown barriers, reintroduce retirees to social networks, and so much more. That isn’t an “I am the greatest” speech, that is straight fact; we make people’s lives better. Tell your community you are awesome because you are.

 

 

 

Knowing Your Community

youth soccerNo two Pennsylvania communities are the same, so it’s no surprise that no two local parks and recreation agencies are the same. Each serves different residents with different needs and desires. Each has different access to funding. From the very small to the very large, from rural to urban areas, from no staff to hundreds of employees, Pennsylvania parks and recreation agencies come in all shapes and sizes.

Today, local parks and recreation agencies are charged with the responsibility to play a significant role in improving the quality of communities. Stepping up and playing this role means knowing your community and the residents you serve very well.
Studying your demographics is an important step. What is the median age, how fast/slow is the population growing, how much time do residents spend commuting, what percentage of the population is over 65/under 5 years of age, what is the education level and the poverty level of your residents? There’s much more to understand, such as the state of the local economy, the available resources in the community, the value residents place on parks and recreation, and the top issues and challenges facing the local community.

Local challenges for your community may be the explosion of travel sports teams and children specializing too early in one sport, food insecurity, an aging population, a sedentary population, a declining or a growing population, high rates of childhood obesity, escalating costs for program participants, lack of early childhood education, private organizations offering competing programming, lack of facilities for programs, and lack of funding for programs. Your list may include some of these issues, plus many others.

For public recreation to meet residents’ needs, programs that appeal to multiple generations, interests and abilities are offered. In part, this is done by determining trends and responding to challenges. The big question is – how do you determine what your community is faced with?

To stay ahead (as much as you can) of the challenges that your community is and will be faced with, and to offer recreation programming that addresses these challenges, hold regular meetings with your staff and volunteers, meet with the public, be visible at community events, be out in your parks and recreation facilities, keep up with the local news, survey the public, evaluate your programs, attend professional conferences and workshops, and network with community organizations.

Your mission statement, vision statement, and core values should be well developed. Undertaking a strategic plan is a great step to knowing the strengths and weaknesses of your recreation programming, discovering the opportunities for growth, and identifying the threats to your success. A strategic plan will provide a clear vision for the future of your recreation programming and serve as a guide to best serve your residents. A strategic plan will help you figure out what role your parks and recreation agency should play in improving the quality of your community.

Goodbye to Summer

Special needs pictureIt may be a sad moment for some and a joyful one to others…the end of summer.  For my daughter and I, it’s our favorite time of year.  We can almost smell the leaves.  The acorns have begun to fall from the Oaks and the goldenrod is blooming.

In our profession, summer poses more of a challenge in your personal life to “relax.”  You have pools to manage, camps to organize, Community Day(s), concerts, races, and many other special events.  So, Fall may be just what the doctor ordered.

But as we wish away the madness, think of all the memories that you and your staff have created for the community.  You have created economic stimulus; taught someone to swim; showed a child the difference between a frog and a toad; provided exercise for a senior citizen; encouraged a special needs participant to get up and dance, allowed a grandfather to watch his granddaughter hit her first home run, created laughter between new friends and many, many other memories.

Parks and Recreation Professionals not only provide benefits for the humans on Mother Earth, but also for the many critters that rely on clean water, fresh air, green grass, safe corridors, and plentiful food.  All which allows them to continue to flourish in their natural habitats.

As you take that sigh of relief that another successful summer has come to an end, give yourself, your staff, and dedicated volunteers a pat on the back for making a difference for creatures big and small.

 

From Toronto With Love: lessons learned from visiting Toronto’s recreation and community centers

Community involvement in rec centers can flourish, if given the proper attention, time and resources.

Those of us who are concerned with better resident engagement with our neighborhood community recreation centers could learn plenty by visiting Toronto, as I recently have.

As a member of an exploration group participating in Civic Commons Learning Journey: Toronto, I was afforded a first-hand look at the operations of many of Toronto’s public libraries, community housing units – and perhaps most important, its public spaces and community recreation centers.

Our tour took us to all points in Toronto – from its more affluent neighborhoods to its more hard-scrabble, working class areas. What stood out during each stop was that community members and neighbors, by and large, took sincere ownership of their parks and centers. Centers were nearly blight-free, and most parks were fulfilling the promise of being bustling centers of communal activity.

When I asked a center director why the community takes to the center the way it does, I was told that many of the neighbors are immigrants, and have embraced the center not only for its recreational properties, but for the essential programming, including ESL classes and other crucial immigrant services. Most of the services are provided for free, and those participating in the various programs usually donate their own time, effort and other resources to support their center.

The idea that we can turn our local centers into more of a one-stop hub where community members can receive an assortment of services should be a priority as the city embarks on the Rebuild Initiative. 

Another story of communal support unfolded when our group visited Regent Park, a wholly redeveloped neighborhood in downtown Toronto. Developers and community leaders there have gone through great lengths to blur the distinction between the more well off residents and working-class ones. There, a new community center arts bank supports the community’s burgeoning creative arts industry, literally providing an avenue through which Regent Park artists can be properly compensated for their talents.

I believe that this sort of neighborhood involvement can flourish locally, if given the proper attention, time and resources.

For example, during our visit to Dufferin Grove Park in West Toronto, we witnessed public usages that, if scaled properly, could work locally.

Most parks that our group visited housed reconfigured metal shipping containers that housed “Park Cafes.” These cafes sit on recreation center grounds, and are open during the hours the park is open, and provide prepared and cooked foods and snacks to all those who use the park. 

One such cafe sits inside Thorncliffe Park and is operated by the Thorncliffe Park Women’s Committee. All of these cafes employ members of the community, and a portion of the proceeds are folded back into the operations of the park.

The implementation of more diverse programming could lead to community engagement while also creating revenue streams for our recreations centers. It’s worth a try. 

Dufferin Grove Park 11
“The Cob,” an open-air cafe situated in the heart of Dufferin Grove Park.
Dufferin Grove Park 9
The play area at Dufferin Grove Park. Note this is mid-morning activity.
Scadding Court Community Centre 10
The skateboard creation program at Scadding Court Community Centre. There, local youth earn certificates in graphic design and screen printing, as they create one-of-a-kind skateboards, which they in turn sell to the local community.