Don Bruns’ Open Space/Parks Comments to Council Part 2

“Don worked nearly 45 years of public service in recreation and scenery management, doing planning, environmental reporting, training, and program administration.  Among the things that made his job meaningfully worthwhile was being able to engage with pragmatic-minded recreation, leisure and behavioral scientists to help advance state-of-the-art recreation science beyond facility and program management that simply accommodates “fun and games.”  Here in the US, and sometimes internationally, Don had the privilege of helping several parks and recreation agencies and organizations learn how to optimize public recreation benefits by assessing the kinds of benefits that people want from open-space, wild lands and parklands, and then structuring both setting and service environments on which positive outcomes depend to match up with the desires of publics being served.”

 

For Littleton City Council—February 16, 2016

Follow-up remarks Council members made to observations I presented two weeks ago regarding the “Littleton Parks, Recreation and Trails Master Plan Survey” were so provocative, they beg for further clarification. It was good to hear Councilman Cernanec acknowledge Frederick Law Olmstead’s emphasis on parkland quietude. Indeed, that advocacy for maintenance of place character prompted Justin Martin to entitle his Olmstead biography, Genius of Place.

Councilwoman Brinkman added that it was not the Council’s intent was to address open-space—only parks, recreation and trails. That suggests you may not have heard what those study participants actually said. Presented with the chance to spend 100 hypothetical dollars, it was reported that participants directed $74 towards open space acquisition. Was this not exactly their point: “We value this more than facilities and programs”! Yes, even within a recreation and trails assessment context.

But to be most helpful, more must be said. Please do not take what I’m about to say in the wrong way. The reason it’s difficult to hear the message study participants sent is that our minds first have to be prepared to accept it. The old recreation model that puts parkland and open-space in separate “boxes” and focuses on facilities and programs is terribly limiting. I know, because I was once there. Then insightful recreation-tourism experts like Driver and Crompton taught us how to get beyond activity, program and facility management. It is not impossible to explicitly structure services so that they maintain rather than erode the publicly-valued setting and service character of both open-space and parklands and deliver outcomes that benefit rather than degrade the lives of affected publics.

There is a third reason why separating open-space from parklands and compartmentalizing facility and program services is not responsive to those being served. There is a spectrum of setting and service character for all outdoor recreation amenities, including both parklands and open-space and ranging from undeveloped to intensively-developed. That character is a chief concern of affected individuals, households and communities because it profoundly affects their quality of life. Public recreation desires therefore go well beyond facilities and programs—and they are place-specific. Sense of place matters a great deal to most affected publics!

A fourth reason for a more holistically integrated recreation assessment construct is explained by the NRPA’s nationwide study of public support for local parks and recreation. They found that “80 percent of non-park-users say that local park areas provide benefits to their community,” and that people “do not have to directly use local park areas to believe that they, other members of their household, and especially the community at large benefit from having local parks in their area.”

One of the greatest limitations of surveys is that people can only respond to what’s put in them. That means they’ll always be deficient until and unless the designers first take the time to find out: 1st – who are the affected publics—participants as well as non-participants, and local residents as well as visitors; and 2nd – what really matters to each. Both Littleton’s outstanding open-space and recreation amenities and the people you are pledged to serve have asked for more than our fathers’ old parks and recreation model. Thank you very much!

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