trendSCAN - December 2019

trendSCAN December 2019


The 2020s -  Opportunity Era for Parks and Recreation 

Some of our greatest accomplishments in public park and recreation occurred when we addressed important issues of our times.  Joseph Lee’s playgrounds kept children from playing in the streets.  Jane Addams’ Hull House aided less advantaged families.  Olmstead’s Central Park served as an antidote to the overcrowding of our cities.

The 2020s resemble just such a time.  Our forests are burning, floods are recurring. The life expectancies of Americans are declining for the very first time. Communities are becoming either overwhelmed or underwhelmed with people and the growing divide between the haves, the have nots, and ‘the have not enoughs’ is causing havoc in how we live, work, learn, and play.

While not all of the trends of the last few years are positive, they do lead to opportunities for parks and recreation.  Some of the overall trends reported in the 2019 issues of trendSCAN when viewed collectively results in the following opportunities:

Please Note:   The first two opportunity areas hold the greatest potential for parks and recreation and are cited as the beginning as strong reminders of our popularity and the newly recognized necessity for livability and viability.  These two factors will serve as an impetus for our preferred future into the 2020s.  


People Value Parks and Recreation

Here’s an upbeat reminder as we venture into the decade 2020s.  It is placed here at the beginning of this trendSCAN to serve as a reminder and impetus as parks and recreation enters the decade pursuing the opportunities and improving the lives of people and places.

People love what we do and what we make happen for them as individuals, communities, and society.  Recheck the specifics of the National Recreation and Park Association’s 2019 Engagement with Park Report

NRPA cites that our agencies’ broad mission to be the centerpiece of healthy, thriving, connected-to-nature communities. Whether spending time with friends and family, improving their health or reconnecting with nature after a hectic week, the reasons people visit their local park and recreation facilities are as diverse as they are.

Some of the key findings from the 2019 Engagement with Park Report

  • • Nine in 10 people agree that parks and recreation is an important local government service.
  • Ninety-three percent of U.S. residents believe it is important for their local government to acquire, construct and maintain local parks, trails and green spaces near bodies of water to protect natural resources in their community.
  • Eighty-five percent of the public considers high-quality park and recreation amenities important factors when choosing a new place to live.


Vitality – Life’s Essential

For those remaining proportion of society who have not recognized the inherent value of parks and recreation, then they are sure to desire vitality.  What could be more critical to people than their own personal vitality and the community within which they live.

Have you ever had a day you felt drained and exhausted?  Have you ever entered a building, a room or even a community and felt the near deadness of the surroundings?  Vitality is essential.  All of us need it and so do the places in which we live, work, learn, and play.

For the first time in our history, the life expectancy of Americans is declining.  The number of suicides is increasing and then there are communities primarily in rural areas that are not doing well as we enter this new decade. Every sixty-five seconds another American is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.  Americans are reported to be more stressed than the rest of the world.We have communities that are teeming with people and economic life while there are others that have been deserted by the vitality of the past and are dying a slow death.   

Vitality comes from the root Latin word, vita, which means life.  How do we help support the vitality of people and places?  Don’t want to claim that actually parks and recreation is “the only” alternative or antidote but it is one that has a role in virtually every aspect of human wellness and community livability.


Kids Front and Center

At the height of the baby boom following World War II, there were so many babies and children that society’s focus was youth.  Communities built schools and play fields at astounding rates and the federal government did their part as well.  Look how far the attention and value has fallen as federal funding for children is at the lowest level in a decade and public and nonprofit agencies are compelled to recoup full expenses through revenue, even for most children’s programs. 

How the world has changed.  Federal spending for children has reached its all-time lowest in a decade.  Almost twenty percent of our children (18.4%) live in poverty and children are the largest age group to live in poverty in this country.  The proportion of children and youth participating in youth sports is down to 38% and the average household income for children playing youth sports is $90,908 far above the median income of $59K.  

What has happened to the time when parks and recreation were front and center as safe places for children to grow and develop and have a good time.

Parks and recreation was and can continue to be and can even raise the bar for children and youth. Our facilities, spaces, and activities are or should be like accessible magnets drawing youth to sports, physical activity, open space, and play.  

Play is really the work of childhood
Fred Rogers


Maybe All Recreation is Therapeutic

Americans are reportedly more stressed than the rest of the world. Teen anxiety and depression are perceived by teens as being major problems.  Loneliness and suicide are part of modern-day life. The Pentagon bemoans the fact that 71% of eligible Americans are ineligible to join the military due to obesity, lack of a high school diploma, or a criminal record.

While these factors are not pleasant to consider, they do reflect the growing rates, visibility, and concerns for the well-being of people.

Years ago, a new acquaintance from Australia when hearing that I was a professor of recreation asked of me “isn’t all recreation therapeutic?”  My response would be a resounding YES today rather than my initial hesitation being stuck for an answer.  

Recreation and parks are therapeutic and as such should make all aspects of undertakings as opportunities to be restorative as the benefits may be just part of the healing individuals and society requires.  
Consider designating certain parks or spaces as tech-free, silence zones.  What about upping the ante of adventure and challenge within some of our more traditional offerings.

We need places to scream and run wild as well as places to be quiet.
Marty Rubin, author of Boiled Frog Syndrome


Community Conservation

Floods, fires, drinking water, loss of bird life, are just a few of the challenges related to Community Conservation.  The natural disasters of recent years have led citizens in places large and small to become increasingly concerned or attentive to saving our natural spaces and resources.  Some places have had to resort to legal action.  Hopefully, that is not always the case because litigation is time-consuming and costly, but our departments can take steps to bring ongoing environmental changes to our operations and ensuring such strategies are integral to our future master or strategic planning effort.

It can happen one person, one department, one organization, or even one community at a time.Boston is planning to purchase 67 additional acres pf green space around Boston Harbor.  In New Orleans, federal grants are going towards building parks and street medians to reduce flooding. There is even a builder in California trying to create a more fire-resistant infrastructure of new developments
We need changes to infrastructure both big and small rather than just continuing to spend large sums of money on repair due to disasters.

For every $1 invested  in more resilient infrastructure, the global net benefit can be as high as $4 in return.
Metropolitan Policy Program


Generational Reboot

It is time for the great generational reset.  Twenty years ago, Baby Boomers were still in the vortex of activity and there was no Generation Z.  With the emergence and heavy attention being given Gen Z as they take their place as the next generational grouping and the accompanying changes for the other cohort groups, we need to update our focus and aims with all of the generational groups.  

The Silent Generation (1928-1945) are replacing the Greatest Generation (1910-1927) whose numbers have dwindled. Both groups are becoming the older-old and while there are fewer of them their need for human contact and connections increases exponentially limited by the death of friends and increased lack of mobility.  The Baby Boomers (1946-1964) are likely beginning to recognize that they are “older” but want to adapt to that aging process in very different ways than their parents.  You can refer to it as ‘the pickle ball effect’.

Then there are the GenXers (1965-1980) who are really caught in the middle as they are confronted with radical changes in the workplace that threaten their livelihood, aging parents who are living longer, and offspring taking longer to launch.  How can we contribute to a balance in their lives?  The Millennials (1981-1996), that group which previously got most all of our attention, have officially made it to adulthood.  Members of this group are not all prospering in the same way. Some are doing well and have homes and families.  This differs from their counterparts who have not quite made it yet with significantly differing needs. Followed by Gen Z (1995-2015) whose numbers and influence are escalating especially as it relates to broad societal issues.  When a sixteen-year-old is named Times Person of the Year, they are really having an impact.

How will we outreach to elderly all alone?  Can senior centers be remade to meet the image and needs of the Boomers?  What will this generation of Millennial parents want for their children and how will all of these groups be impacted by social media in ways that will influence parks and recreation?


New World, New Ways

Many 2018 and 2019 issues of trendSCAN have included a section titled Emerging/Evolving Models.  The focus of this section is on organizations or entire industries that have changed the way they do business to survive or thrive in our ever-changing and challenging world.

In the February 2019 issue, trendhunters put forth six major patterns of change:  reductionism, redirection, convergence, divergence, cyclicity, and acceleration and for each of these change categories identified greater detail February 2019 issue.  Many of these patterns are reflected in the Emerging/Evolving Models such as the dramatic transformations of shopping malls and drugstores gradually evolving to become mini-health centers.

The same imperatives for change impact parks and recreation and our future  Some of those possibilities might include:

  • Greater Mental Stimulation as 31% of consumers soon expect to go to ‘mind gyms’ to practice thinking, as everyday decision-making becomes more automated and challenging situations more complex.
  • Biophilia Build Ins as architecture is focusing upon the healing influence of nature and bringing it indoors.  Amazon’s headquarters in Seattle has 4,000 square feet of glass dome and Microsoft has an outdoor tree house.
  • Purposeful Parks as some parks become silent places for reflection and a break and other parks and landmarks are either temporarily or permanently being uniquely designed so people can directly interact with them.
  • Access and Affordability.  The higher earners including successful Millennials are rushing to high end alternatives usually in the private or commercial setting.  What about the rest of the residents who can barely afford basic recreational services, i.e. exercise classes, youth sports or people who feel ‘out of place’ at senior centers?


Nurture Community 

We Create Community through People, Parks, and Programs was not just the tag line but the focal point that the California Park & Recreation Society created for their members and our profession through their 1998 strategic plan.  Little did CPRS know that they may have been a bit ahead of their time by focusing upon this critical aspect of life.  

How do we know this is an opportunity area?  Both Millennials and older adults report feelings of being disconnected and alone; the younger group at a higher level than the older adults.  The ‘Peleton effect’ on fitness equipment and physical activity options keep people at home with connections between users and their trainers and fellow exercisers which may or may not create the genuine connections people require.  A newly designated definition of renewed cocooning is ‘streaming and staying’ which refers to people not leaving the house viewing entertainment or attending specialized events from the couch. 

The importance of good people in our life is as important as a heartbeat.
It’s not visible but silently supports life.

Fardeen Afridi

trendSCAN is created by Dr. Ellen O’Sullivan for the California Park & Recreation Society.  Ellen welcomes your comments, questions, and feedback and can be reached at