This article appeared in the August 2018 issue of the Georgia's Cities newspaper.
Loyalty and passion are what we all want for the communities we live in and serve. Loyalty is best described as citizens’ general satisfaction with a place, the likelihood to recommend it to others and their outlook on the community’s future. Passion, in this sense, is best described as a connection to a place and the pride felt by living there. Local parks and recreation play a key role in achieving these desired outcomes. Through facilities and programming, community members engage in the outdoors, get healthier and connect to places to find relaxation.
Many communities across the state of Georgia have taken notice of the vast benefits recreation and parks offer to assure positive, sustaining growth. A National Recreation and Park Association study shows that over 20,000 jobs and over $2 billion in economic activity (transactions) in Georgia were accomplished with local parks and recreation in 2015. Parks enhance real estate values. Values increase from 5-10 percent based on proximity to parks, which results in additional revenue.
Recreation and parks are the greatest enabler of personal and community wellness. Communities are constructing greenspace, greenways and blueways (water trails) at a record pace. These have become not just a simple means of getting somewhere, but a destination unto themselves. They offer a chance for local communities to redefine what it is to be a neighbor—to be a community and a region. Parks and recreation are the vessel through which all this is shared.
Although the Atlanta Beltline is a prime example of these spaces, many communities across the state are also seeing the benefits. The 18-mile greenbelt in Carrollton connects people with parks, neighborhoods and shops and has spurred numerous redevelopment projects. In Woodbine several miles now advance the Tabby Trail Greenway connecting communities and schools. This is part of the 68-mile Georgia Coast Rail Trail vision that will ultimately be a 3,000-mile East Coast Greenway. These trails allow communities to offer partnership programming that keeps people active. One of the most successful examples being the “Walk with a Doc” program that allows community members to walk and simultaneously ask questions to a doctor. Local healthcare and park partnerships have also created opportunities where doctors will “prescribe” parks to patients for various health remedies.
Recreation complexes and community centers are also enhancing the quality of life in many communities. Acworth is currently constructing a 50,000 sq. ft., state-of-the-art community center that will be a center hub for the vibrant community. Adel is in phase 1 construction of a new $4 million recreation complex that will offer citizens and visitors various sports and leisure activities. The Springfield and Guyton communities (Effingham County) have started to see the impact of the recently completed recreation complex that included a $1 million donation for an artificial turf multipurpose baseball stadium by local hero Josh Reddick. The elected leadership has decided to bond the next phase of the complex due to the success.
As you begin planning for your department’s near and far future, ask yourself if your community’s demographics are reflected in program offerings, citizen board members, parkland acquisition priorities and facility designs. Look for partners when planning a community facility. A recently completed community center in Dalton not only houses recreational needs but also has a Women, Infant and Children wing and a health department wing staffed by a full-time doctor. Additional partnerships with the local library, community arts, police and fire and school system, among others, made it an easy sell to the community. The success of this project turned into an overwhelmingly approved SPLOST vote by the community to develop a 300-acre passive park with a 125-acre lake. Partnerships can make the difference when it comes to offerings and funding.
These are only a few examples of some great things happening around the state with recreation and parks in your communities. Communication, cooperation and collaboration are key components to seeing a community’s vison become a reality. Quality of life is important for healthy and sustainable community growth. Economic impact, attracting business, retaining young professionals, environmental stewardship, breaking social boundaries and community wellness are a few examples of why your local recreation and parks is the essential service to your community.
Other than the local school system, parks and recreation has the most direct impact on families. I would encourage community leaders to urge your local professionals to be innovative thinkers when planning for the opportunities offered to your citizens. Since change is inevitable, how we deal with the change will ultimately determine the success of our individual communities. So, the question is: How are you invoking loyalty and passion in your community?