Industry Insight

“If the only tool you have is a hammer, you tend to see every problem as a nail.”

–Abraham Maslow

Just as conceptual tools presented in university textbooks and classrooms sometimes are not integrated into professional practice, wisdom discovered in the field is not always incorporated either.

Three decades ago, a group of professionals gathered to proactively address this dilemma. The American Academy of Park and Recreation Administrators (AARPA) was established in 1980 as an “organization of distinguished practitioners and scholars committed to the advancement of the park and recreation field” (www.aapra.org/index.html), and dedicated to promoting the best professional practices and educational methods.

Membership is limited to 125 individuals, and election to the academy “recognize[s] outstanding leadership in the parks and recreation field from those who have made major contributions during their career,” not simply to honor years of service.

California’s San Francisco Bay Area is fortunate to claim two AAPRA members, Joe Schultz and Barry Weiss, seasoned veterans who rose from the front lines to lead their agencies to various accomplishments. During a recent interview, they shared their views on parks and recreation’s past, present and future, along with a few of the tools needed to achieve success.

From Direct Service To Problem-Solving

Among the most dramatic shifts has been from the straightforward offering of direct services to complex problem-solving. In the past, agencies concentrated on offering a wide range of activities, and operated under the “If-you-build-it,-they-will-come” philosophy. Today, as funding becomes scarcer and new social issues emerge, parks and recreation departments have become partners in confronting crises such as obesity, gang activity and environmental degradation.

Weiss describes a tool (see the Figure) highlighting the importance of simultaneously accommodating the needs of individuals and the larger community that may not currently be using agency services when making program decisions. Rather than seeking a compromise in which neither party is completely satisfied, solutions that fully benefit both constituencies likely will draw broad support. For example, an after-school study-play program can contribute to reduced obesity, which benefits the individual user. It also can contribute to reducing juvenile crime and raising student test scores, both of which are seen as benefits to the community, even for non-users.

With regard to reaching consensus among stakeholders, Schultz relies on a mnemonic device–FORM–to focus program design:

· Family

· Occupation

· Recreation

· Money.

He uses a second device–5210–to guide healthy activity programming:

· Five servings of fruits and vegetables

· A two-hour limit on TV time

· One hour of exercise

· Zero soft-drink consumption.

An Essential Public Service

Taking problem-solving to the next level, Weiss notes that individual departments within governmental entities need to see themselves as part of the larger picture. He cites a matrix used by the city of San Carlos (located near San Francisco) that shows how a reduction in park maintenance eventually reduces the property values of homes situated near parks. By quantifying outcomes, this tool emphasizes parks and recreation’s importance as an investment that pays measurable returns, in contrast to a donation that drains the city budget.

One positive result of the current recession has been the repositioning of parks and recreation as an essential public service that “makes lives better” in partnership with other departments and organizations. The community’s perception of an agency’s effectiveness is crucial, and continued support therefore becomes a political matter. As Weiss states, politics is simply a group of people working together to accomplish a goal–serving the community.

The Future Is Bright, And It’s Coming Fast

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