Parks & Recreation April 22

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Racial Equity and the Environment Earth Day Celebrations

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contentsapril 2022 volume 57 | number 4 |

Every decade since 1980 has been hotter than the previous one, and that trend is expected to continue for decades to come despite efforts to mitigate increasing temperatures.


32 Meeting the Challenge of Climate Change Richard J. Dolesh

Climate change is changing the way parks are planned, designed, managed and programmed.


Parks & Recreation

38 Climate Change and the Threat to Racial Equity Vitisia Paynich

Learn how natural disasters and global warming expose environmental injustices.

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44 Celebrating Earth Day Ayanna Williams, MSW

Discover how park and recreation professionals and partners across the country are bringing Earth Day events to their communities.


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contents april

columns 8

departments 12

We Are Parks and Recreation The ‘Carnival of Ruin’: Raising the Curtain on Public Sustainability Efforts 12 How a Stormwater Park Is Revitalizing a Historic Atlanta Neighborhood 14 A Successful Flood Mitigation Project Benefits Urban and Rural Communities 16 Member Benefit: NRPA-Sponsored Insurance Programs at a Discount 17


Research Studying the Health Benefits and Economic Impacts of Parks Kevin Roth


Park Pulse Parks and Recreation Cultivates Environmental Stewardship

Perspectives Making a Collective Impact Carolyn F. McKnight-Fredd

10 Editor’s Letter Inaction Is Not an Option Vitisia Paynich

20 Conservation Measuring and Treasuring Our Night Skies Sharolyn Anderson, Ph.D., and Ashley Pipkin

22 Health and Wellness Farmers Markets Play a Key Role in Resiliency Efforts Maureen Neumann

24 Equity . ecoming an Equitable and Just Organization B August M. Ball

28 Law Review Confederate Flag Removed From City Christmas Parade James C. Kozlowski, J.D., Ph.D.

50 Operations Considering All Lighting Strategies Thomas Lovell Jr., MPA, CPRA

52 Park Essentials

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55 Advertiser Index 56 Park Bench From Trash to Treasured Public Art Erica Benoit

Cover image: Nitsuki |

Parks & Recreation is printed using soy ink on at least 10 percent post-consumer recycled paper and is mailed in a wrap — only when required — that is plant based and certified compostable. If you are interested in helping us go even greener, email us at and ask to opt out of receiving the print magazine. Parks & Recreation is always available to read in an ezine format at


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Farmers markets are a key part of the impact parks and recreation has on community health and well-being.

Showcase your program catalog on Issuu with our interactive digital catalog maker. Save on Budget “We typically do four brochures per year, sent out to 12,000 households. By going fully digital with Issuu, we save around $55,000 every year in printing costs.” -Thomas Romano Town of Lexington Recreation and Community Program Coordinator

| © 2022 Issuu, Incorporated. All rights reserved.

P E R S P E C T I V E S A M E S S A G E F R O M N R P A’ S L E A D E R S

Making a Collective Impact On April 22, 1970, 20 million people across the United States came together to take a stand for the environment and be the voice for the future of our planet. This event led to the enactment of environmental laws, including the Clean Air, Clean Water and Endangered Species Acts; spurred the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency; and helped to initiate the modern environmental movement. Over the past five decades, this date has come to be recognized annually worldwide, with more than 1 billion people across nearly 200 countries taking action to protect the environment as part of the world’s largest civic event: Earth Day. While the first Earth Day successfully rallied people together to raise awareness of environmental issues and persuaded elected officials to implement urgent policy changes, both the annual event and the environmental movement have evolved throughout the past 52 years. Today, the focus of Earth Day is often individual action, such as planting trees or volunteering, and the environmental movement has become increasingly multifaceted with the rise in climate change and greater understanding that the impacts we face are highly interconnected with identities, such as class, race, ability and more. Therefore, for the environmental movement to succeed, we must take a unified and intersectional approach. During the 2021 NRPA Annual Conference, keynote speaker Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson said: “When I think about how...we succeed at addressing this crisis that we have on our hands, I think, ‘Well, we have to welcome everyone in.’ It’s not about changing people’s minds necessarily — the vast majority of Americans are fully aware that we have a crisis on our hands, but aren’t yet sure what to do or where they fit in or what the future might hold for them.” That is where parks and recreation comes in. Collectively, park and recreation departments across the United States manage more than 11 million acres 8

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of open space ( Unlike many other natural areas, many of these spaces are located directly within communities, meaning the actions implemented in these spaces have an immediate and direct impact on the people around them. What’s more, park and recreation professionals are unique in that they are not only connected to local land, but also connected to their community members, and can be the link between nature and people to inspire meaningful action. During her keynote, Dr. Johnson also said, “We can all be a part of the climate solution…. We each have a very different role to play, and when it comes to addressing climate change, it’s really important to think not just about our individual actions, but [also] how we are contributing to a part of something much bigger than ourselves.” Being literally and metaphorically at the center of communities, park and recreation agencies — and the professionals who serve them — are perfectly situated to promote local, systems-level changes that make up national and global efforts. This Earth Day, I encourage you to take time to consider how your agency can innovate to address current and impending climate impacts — whether that is planting new species of trees that will thrive in the changing climate or incorporating green stormwater infrastructure into built environments to reduce water pollution as rainfall increases. Additionally, what new and creative environmental education and conservation programming can we implement to engage our community members and cultivate their understanding and love of their local lands, so that this stewardship is carried forward? Working with our communities and across the profession, together, we have the opportunity to make an immense impact. Park and recreation professionals are at the core of transformation that is helping to build a healthier, more resilient future. I look forward to seeing the innovative projects, programs and best practices you bring to your communities this Earth Day and beyond.

C AROLYN F. MCKNIGHT-FREDD Chair, NRPA Board of Directors

2377 Belmont Ridge Rd. | Ashburn, VA 20148 2 703.858.0784 |

NRPA’S MISSION: To advance parks, recreation and environmental conservation efforts that enhance the quality of life for all people. EXECUTIVE COMMITTEE Chair of the Board of Directors Carolyn McKnight-Fredd, CPRP Eagle Methods Management Consulting Dallas, Texas

Treasurer Xavier D. Urrutia Alamo Colleges District San Antonio, Texas

Joanna Lombard University of Miami School of Architecture; Miller School of Medicine Department of Public Health Sciences Miami, Florida

Mollie Marsh-Heine Earthjustice Boulder, Colorado

Carolyn McKnight-Fredd, CPRP

Secretary Joshua Medeiros, Ed.D., CPRE

Eagle Methods Management Consulting Dallas, Texas

City of Bristol Parks and Recreation Bristol, Connecticut

Joshua Medeiros, Ed.D., CPRE

At Large Nonet T. Sykes Atlanta BeltLine, Inc. Atlanta, Georgia

At Large Mike Abbaté, FASLA, LEED AP Abbaté Designs Portland, Oregon

President and CEO Kristine Stratton, Ex Officio National Recreation and Park Association Ashburn, Virginia

BOARD OF DIRECTORS Michael Abbaté, FASLA, LEED AP Abbaté Designs Portland, Oregon

Kathy Abbott Boston Harbor Now Boston, Massachusetts

Jesús Aguirre, CPRE

City of Bristol Parks and Recreation Bristol, Connecticut

Arnold L. Randall Forest Preserve District of Cook County Chicago, Illinois

Nonet T. Sykes Atlanta BeltLine, Inc. Atlanta, Georgia

Xavier D. Urrutia Alamo Colleges District San Antonio, Texas

Lakita Watson, CPRP Richland County Recreation Commission Columbia, South Carolina

Greg A. Weitzel, M.S., CPRP City of Las Vegas Parks and Recreation Las Vegas, Nevada

Philip Wu, M.D. (Retired) Kaiser Permanente Northwest Region Portland, Oregon

Seattle Parks and Recreation Seattle, Washington

LIFE TRUSTEES Beverly D. Chrisman

Rebecca Armstrong

Lexington, South Carolina

North Portland, Oregon

Anne S. Close

Jose Felix Diaz

James H. Evans

Ballard Partners Miami, Florida

Victor Dover Dover, Kohl & Partners Town Planning South Miami, Florida

Angelou Ezeilo Greening Youth Foundation Atlanta, Georgia

Fort Mill, South Carolina New York, New York

Rosemary Hall Evans Sugar Hill, New Hampshire

Earl T. Groves Gastonia, North Carolina

Charles E. Hartsoe, Ph.D. Richmond, Virginia

Richard Gulley

Harry G. Haskell, Jr.

San Diego Parks and Recreation San Diego, California

Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania

Kathryn A. Porter

Monica Hobbs Vinluan

Mendham, New Jersey

Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Ashburn, Virginia

Perry J. Segura

Susie Kuruvilla

R. Dean Tice

Gurnee Park District Gurnee, Illinois

Round Hill, Virginia

Because one size doesn’t fit all, NRPA offers many ways to support the field of parks and recreation. Choose the one(s) that best suits your situation: Online Giving is an easy click away. Monthly Giving enables you to be an anchor for NRPA during these times of volatility. Tribute Gifts honor someone special or celebrate an important occasion. Gifts of Appreciated Stock allow you to save on taxes while supporting parks and recreation. Gifts Through a Donor-Advised Fund are a great way to see the impact of your gift right away. Gifts from Your IRA may be a great way to avoid taxes on your withdrawal and meet your Required Minimum Distribution (RMD). Please consult with your tax advisor on the giving option(s) that best fits your personal situation. For more information, visit, email us at or call us at 703.858.2190.

New Iberia, Louisiana

Eugene A. Young, CPRP Baton Rouge, Louisiana

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Inaction Is Not an Option As I write this month’s column, I’m paying close attention to the weather forecast as rain is expected to drop in Southern California. Although there is a 40 percent chance of showers in the morning, the amount of expected rainfall will be (pardon the pun) barely a drop in the bucket when it comes to reversing severe drought conditions in the Golden State. You need not live on the West Coast to know that drought, excessive heat and wildfires have been our reality for several years now. The question is: How can we all do our part to sound the alarm? This month Parks & Recreation magazine unveils its Conservation Issue, which addresses this very question. In the cover story, “Meeting the Challenges of Climate Change,” on page 32, Editorat-Large Richard J. Dolesh takes a deep dive into this existential threat and explains how it is changing the way park and recreation agencies design, plan and manage their parks and green spaces. He also provides real-world examples of how agencies across the country are applying innovative principles for developing resilient green infrastructure. “We have to look at every part of our system and how we connect blueways and greenways and streets and communities. We must understand the impacts of climate change to the entire system, not just to the individual pieces,” says Maria Nardi, director of Miami-Dade County Department of Parks, Recreation and Open Spaces. Natural disasters not only reveal the weaknesses in our national infrastructure, but also expose the racial disparities and long-term damage that climate change inflicts upon our most vulnerable communities. In the feature article, “Climate Change and the Threat to Racial Equity,” on page 38, experts in the field discuss the direct link between the environment and race, as well as parks and recreation’s role in helping to reduce our carbon footprint. “We can do a better job of working with our partners in city planning to build better sustainable development when it comes to housing in areas of the underserved population. And to me, that’s environmental justice — right planning in the right place at the right time,” says Sara Hensley, city manager for City of Denton, Texas. Want to know how some of your park and recreation colleagues are observing Earth Day? Ayanna Williams, NRPA’s director of community and environmental resilience, shares all the details in the feature article, “Celebrating Earth Day,” on page 44. “On Earth Day, we can celebrate partnerships and programs ripe with success. We also can enjoy the parks and green spaces in our community and renew our commitment to finding solutions that build resilience,” she writes. As you look through our special issue, I hope these articles inspire you. What’s more, I encourage you to engage with your own constituents, invite them into the climate change conversation, and discuss ways for making your communities more environmentally resilient. Because at the end of the day, we are all one community, one nation and one planet. And I think we all can agree that inaction simply isn’t an option.

VITISIA “VI” PAYNICH Executive Editor Director, Print and Online Content


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MAGAZINE ADVISORY BOARD MEMBERS Anthony-Paul Diaz, Chair Michael Abbaté, FASLA Neelay Bhatt Ryan Eaker Beau Fieldsend Kathleen Gibi Paul Gilbert, CPRP Tim Herd, CPRE Brian Johnson, CPSI Denise Johnson-Caldwell Roslyn Johnson, CPRP Michele Lemons Sam Mendelsohn Maria Nardi Lisa Paradis, CPRP Paula Sliefert Shonnda Smith, CPRP, AFO Ronnetta Spalding Anne-Marie Spencer Stephen Springs

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WE ARE PARKS AND RECREATION The ‘Carnival of Ruin’: Raising the Curtain on Public Sustainability Efforts By Jason Lang, MS, CPRE


hat if we could engage an entire community with an artistic experience that simultaneously elevated sustainability awareness? Three West Chester University professors — maria urrutia, Gretchen Studlien-Webb and Constance Case — had long championed sustainability efforts in their personal lives and envisioned a theatrical performance with sustainability at its core. From this vision, the “Carnival of Ruin” was born. lifetime of living without sensitivity to his environment has caused Charlie to lose the love of his life.

The Making of the Carnival of Ruin The creativity of the “Carnival of Ruin” experience began with the performance dialogue, but sparkled like a million bright lights in the costuming and staging. Echoing the message of sustainability, every performer’s costume was made from 100 percent post-consumer waste.


The play follows a carnival barker, Charlie Boggs, as he arrives in town, carelessly littering before leaving without a thought of what he left behind. He is met by a fortuneteller, who speaks of his imminent doom if he does not begin understanding the errors of his ways. In the final, emotionallycharged scene, Charlie ventures down to the polluted water’s edge to find the love of his life, a mermaid named Virginia Waters, covered in single-use plastics and garbage while writhing in pain. That’s when he finally gets it. A


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Echoing the “Carnival of Ruin” play’s message of sustainability, every performer’s costume was made from 100 percent post-consumer waste.

For example, the mermaid’s tail was made from recycled green soda cans and Charlie’s vest was woven from soda can tabs and fabric scraps. Every carnival has a big top, and this one was made from 8,000 single-use plastic bags that were braided into “plarn” (plastic yarn) before being woven into white and red panels over the course of 350 hours. To accomplish an experience of this magnitude in a public setting, the “Carnival of Ruin” creators partnered with the East Goshen Township Department of Parks and Recreation, a gold-level certified sustainable community in eastern Pennsylvania that serves 18,000 residents and has a well-documented history of delivering outside-the-box programming. “Carnival of Ruin” debuted in the park with two free public shows. Park and recreation department staff went to work, getting the residents excited for the performance and enlisting residents to donate their “garbage” that would become art. Department staff collected everything from plastic bags to soda cans to cat litter containers that would anchor the big top posts. To keep the momentum going and to further drive home sustainability education, a series of six public service announcements (PSAs) was created. These starred Charlie and the township director of parks and recreation, and covered topics, like “Recycle this, not that” and “Keeping our streams clean starts in our front lawns.” These were quick-hitting nug-

gets of hilarious, yet poignant, messages meant to bolster “Carnival of Ruin’s” mission and prime the community for the upcoming live performance debut. A neat ripple effect of the PSAs was these messages could live outside the “Carnival of Ruin” ticketed audience and be seen online by the public at their leisure, with the number of views reaching 6,870.

The Debut The cast rehearsed in preparation for a May 2020 debut but postponed until summer 2021, as the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic put a hold on public events. It was heartwarming to see the entire cast, crew and community remain interested and engaged in the “Carnival of Ruin” through a nearly 14-month pause. Spring 2021 brought warmer weather and hopes that the show would go on. “Carnival of Ruin” leadership held an exhibit and big top reveal on campus, with timed public access and a brilliant table read live-streamed on social media that gave the public a taste of the performance to come. But the “Carnival of Ruin” leadership had one final question to answer: How would they know if the play made inroads into changing behavior? The West Chester University Statistics Department was enlisted to create a statistically valid survey about pre- and post-“Carnival of Ruin” event attitudes and behaviors. Utilizing the six public service announcements as a jumping off point, all ticketed guests were asked in April, and then again in mid-June, a series of sustainability-focused questions. The morning of the premiere came and a truckload of empty milk jugs, recycled plastics support beams, reused plastic film and gor-

geous costumes made its way to East Goshen Township Park. During the two performances, the audience laughed at Charlie’s buffoonery and marveled at the exquisite costuming. The show reached its crescendo as Charlie realized that living a sustainable life is an achievable and worthwhile goal. The entire cast were met with loud applause as they took their final bows. But the “Carnival of Ruin” was created as an intimate, hands-on experience, and so, this was just the beginning of the performance. Show organizers invited the audience backstage to see the costumes, stage and big top up close. The star of the play, Virginia, sat for countless pictures with children who could not believe she had a tail made from recycled ginger ale and soda cans. Kids could climb on the stage and crunch, crumble and poke the actors’ costumes. Grown men looked for their favorite beer bottle top in Charlie’s topcoat and everyone marveled at the elegant beauty of the tight rope walker’s colorful train. But equally impressive was the big top. Over the course of that past 18 months, the community made the deliberate and conscious choice to bring in single-use plastic bags that otherwise would have ended up in the local county landfill. That collective community effort, in the form of a carnival big top, sat on a hilltop at the park’s highest point, proudly championing the hard work of all those involved with the “Carnival of Ruin.”

Calculating Impact Once the show had come full circle, “Carnival of Ruin” leadership and park and recreation department staff were still left with that final question: Had they changed pub-

lic attitudes toward sustainability? Survey conclusions were encouraging. These included: • Eighty-two percent of the audience thought the show was very or extremely effective in conveying its message that when you throw something away, it truly doesn’t go away. • Eighty-eight percent pledged to not use single-use plastic bags. • Ninety-four percent pledged to reuse single-use plastic bags. • Eighty-eight percent pledged to talk to family and friends about sustainability. Studlien-Webb, Case and urrutia created a mesmerizing theater performance that was entertaining, thought provoking, compelling and, most importantly, inspiring people to take action. We can draw some really wonderful conclusions when we look back at the “Carnival of Ruin” experience through a municipal park and recreation lens. Sustainability is a worthy goal, and something that park and recreation departments can help communities tackle as a whole. Our bread and butter come from offering outdoor programming in public spaces, such as waterways, greenways and on mountainsides, that all need our attention. Water and air quality, energy usage and repurposing of expended goods can be something we address through park and recreation experiences. Be creative! Have a simple goal and craft a message that your public can get behind. As the fortuneteller told Charlie, “This can be a beautiful place, and your environment is only as kind as you keep it.” Jason Lang, MS, CPRE, is Director of Parks and Recreation at East Goshen Township Parks and Recreation (

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How a Stormwater Park Is Revitalizing a Historic Atlanta Neighborhood By Robby Bryant


ne hundred years ago, Atlanta’s Vine City neighborhood was a bustling district. A middle-class neighborhood where vibrant cultural and political life flourished, residents strolled the treelined streets, churches and schools dotted the landscape, and local businesses thrived. Lush vegetation grew year-round in nurseries and gardens under glass greenhouses, giving the neighborhood an uncommon beauty and its distinctive “Vine City” name. At the turn of the 20th century, Atlanta’s mayor commissioned the famed Olmsted Brothers Company to design a park with grassy meadows, fountains, shade trees, walking paths and stately streets. The park was home to the first integrated playground in the city, a source of community pride and an immensely popular gathering place. The neighborhood lost its park in the 1950s, as it was repurposed into an elementary school. During its heyday in the 1960s, Vine City became the sought-

after address for America’s most influential civil rights leaders and families, including Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. However, over the course of several decades, Vine City’s population dwindled, and the neighborhood fell into decline. Dramatic increases in impervious surfaces contributed to severe flooding of streets and homes, which culminated in 2002 as heavy rains damaged a large swath of the neighborhood, exacerbated by an outdated stormwater system. Unable to rebuild, many residents sold


Rodney Cook Sr. Park is a green oasis with critical hydrological infrastructure that was designed to address flooding within Atlanta’s Vine City neighborhood.


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their plots, which subsequently sat empty for more than a decade and contributed to population loss, disinvestment in the community and increased crime. To address Vine City’s complex social, environmental and economic challenges, The Trust for Public Land hired design firm HDR to lead the design of Rodney Cook Sr. Park. The new 16-acre dualpurpose park and watershed management system alleviates flooding by capturing and storing up to 10 million gallons of stormwater while simultaneously creating a vibrant community destination.

Putting the “Fun” in Functional Engineering Rodney Cook Sr. Park (informally known as “Cook Park”) is a green oasis with critical hydrological infrastructure in the heart of the community. Designed to seamlessly integrate functional engineering features within a programmed park space, Cook Park’s amenities — which include a destination playground, amphitheater stage, market plaza, multipurpose courts, recirculating fountains, meandering boardwalks and interpretive overlooks — provide visitors of all ages and abilities with ways to gather, connect and enjoy nature. A watershed achievement in many ways, Cook Park also includes significant sustainable features. Beautiful and functional rain gardens filter storm flow

from incoming pipes, stormwater planters line the streetscape edge to capture runoff from the neighborhood streets, and constructed wetlands and native plantings surround the wet pond to enhance water quality.

Collaborating With the Community At the time of its completion in 2021, Cook Park was the largest investment in a public park in Atlanta’s Westside neighborhood in more than 50 years. It was important that residents of Vine City and English Avenue were engaged during the early planning stages to provide critical feedback. Using a design charrette process, community members’ ideas and input on the development plans were gathered, and regular updates on progress were communicated. Much of the design charrette process was an educational effort while helping community members visualize the layout and best practices of design. The completed park further supports the community with new recreational programs and opportunities for local youth, such as neighborhood health and fitness programs, a fitness zone, a bouldering (free climbing) area, sport courts, plenty of open green space and a splash pad. Wide sidewalks were built to accommodate farmers markets and festivals, and a sloped bank of lawn seating forms a natural amphitheater with views of the city.

Going Green Access to green space improves health through improved air quality and the reduction of urban heat islands. The monumental green space features include fresh, native

plantings designed to withstand the Atlanta heat and submersion during storms. A rippling water feature and impressive works of stone and steel transport park visitors from the bustling city center to a peaceful oasis. Green infrastructure features include bioretention ponds to collect flow from incoming pipes, stormwater planters to capture runoff from the adjacent streets, a great lawn designed to manage flood waters, and a wet pond surrounded by constructed wetlands to improve water quality. An underground cistern also provides water for the wet pond.

foot great lawn to the west. To parkgoers, the great lawn serves as a large multipurpose open space for activities, including impromptu sports and performance events with natural amphitheater seating. Designed to hold up to two feet of rainwater and underlain by three feet of engineered soils and a large, complex drain system, the lawn contributes to storage capacity during major rain events while filtering stormwater runoff. These functions allow the park and water treatment system to accommodate historic water levels without flooding the surrounding neighborhood.

Storing Stormwater and Improving Water Quality

Enriching a Vibrant Community

Designed in coordination with engineering consultant Freese and Nichols and the City of Atlanta Department of Watershed Management, the heart of the new park is a two-acre pond that captures up to 10 million gallons of stormwater, eliminates combined sewer overflows up to the 100-year storm event, reduces strain on the city’s sewer system, and provides relief to the 150-acre watershed. Even when the park floods, it remains an asset to the community. Several areas — including the main walkways, 600-foot pedestrian bridge, fitness areas and playground — are designed to remain dry, even during the largest storms. During rain events, the engineering aspects come to life. The gates — hidden behind a wall — open and allow the rainwater to flow in. The incoming runoff is channeled through a recirculating fountain, which helps to remove sediment and provides aeration for the pond. Balancing the east side’s twoacre pond is a 60,000-square-

Once characterized by abandoned homes and vacant lots with outdated infrastructure and severe flooding, Cook Park showcases the benefits of tackling age-old infrastructure challenges with community involvement and innovative green solutions. Now Atlanta’s fourth largest park, Cook Park represents a collaborative effort between The Trust for Public Land, the City of Atlanta Department of Watershed Management, the City of Atlanta Department of Parks and Recreation, and, most importantly, the residents of Vine City and the greater community. A grand symbol of the neighborhood’s legacy, Cook Park expands on the foundation the City of Atlanta built with Historic Fourth Ward Park, showcasing the best of urban planning while building a monument to history that will be enjoyed by the community for decades to come. Robby Bryant is Principal Landscape Architect at HDR.

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Parks & Recreation



A Successful Flood Mitigation Project Benefits Urban and Rural Communities By JoAnne Castagna, Ed.D.


he Village of Delhi [New York] has experienced several extreme flood events over the years, including the floods of 1973, 1996, 2006, 2010 and 2011,” says Jessica Patterson, stream program technician at the Delaware County (New York) Soil and Water Conservation District. a member of Delhi’s Joint Flood Mitigation Committee that, with the help of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, New York District, restored Steele Brook’s banks. Steele Brook flows into the West Branch Delaware River, which is located in the heart of the Village of Delhi. The West Branch flows into the Cannonsville Reservoir, which supplies almost 97 billion gallons of water to the New York City water supply system. To restore the streambank to reduce flooding and improve water quality, several agencies collabo-


Matthew Krzyston grew up in the Village of Delhi, less than a mile from Reservoir Park. “As a young kid, my parents would take me there to picnic and play in Steele Brook. It was a special place that people of all ages loved to visit,” he says. “However, during storm events, extreme eroding of the streambanks caused trees and clay sediment to fall into the stream. This created flooding in the village and made it impossible to even enter the park, and it was basically forgotten.” Four decades later, Krzyston is


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rated, including the Army Corps of Engineers, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, the Village of Delhi, the Delaware County Department of Watershed Affairs, and the Delaware County Soil and Water Conservation District. The streambank stabilization work included clearing the falling trees and debris from the 632-footlong Steele Brook and its 21-foothigh slopes. Along the edges of the stream, loose stones were placed to slow down the stream and reduce potential damages downstream. Along the stream border, a stacked rock wall was built to prevent sediment from running off the slopes into the stream during storm events. Above the stacked rock wall, 8,414 feet of the bank that was eroding was revegetated with native plants, including native willow live stakes. The plant’s roots stabilize the soil and prevent the soil from running into the river. The vegetation also traps and absorbs sediment and pollutants, like harmful phosphorus and nitrogen particles, from entering the stream. The stream also was realigned to include a floodplain, which prevents pollutants from entering the stream. Preventing sediment from en-

Steele Brook flows into the West Branch Delaware River, which is located in the heart of the Village of Delhi, New York.

tering the stream is beneficial not only to the public’s water supply, but also to aquatic habitats. Clay sediment can reduce oxygen in the water, suffocating aquatic wildlife. To further protect aquatic habitats, a mixture of deep and shallow water depths was created in the stream to support different types of fish and invertebrate life. Deep water, or pools, have slow moving water and are favorite places for certain species of fish, such as trout, to hang out. Shallow water, or riffles, are faster moving sections of a stream where rocks break the water’s surface, which allows oxygen to enter the water. These are good places for certain insects to live. “Now the park is more accessible and more beautiful than it ever was before. I was excited to bring my boys — ages 13 and 15 — back to the same park where my par-

ents had brought me. When we [visited], they were amazed that they had never seen this hidden gem that is right up the road,” says Krzyston. According to the mayor of Delhi, picnic tables and grills will be placed in Reservoir Park to encourage not only locals to enjoy the area, but also visitors from New York City. Besides the work recently completed on Steele Brook, the brook still has additional areas of erosion that will be worked on in the future. Patterson says, “There will be more projects in the future on several steep eroding banks. The work that was done recently served two goals — it stabilized the streambank to protect water quality and it improved an access road for future projects downstream.” Krzyston says, “The flood commission members are very

Member Benefit: NRPA-Sponsored Insurance Programs at a Discount


RPA offers its members insurance discount programs provided by K&K Insurance. As you plan for the upcoming summer season, it is important you are making sure you are keeping your department and employees safe and covered. So, what type of coverage does NRPA offer? Directors and Officers – Directors and Officers Liability insurance protects directors, officers, volunteers and the nonprofit sports organization itself against claims alleging mismanagement of the organization and other exposures. Blanket Accident – Blanket Accident insurance is typically purchased by park and recreation departments or municipalities to

provide protection for participants engaged in both sponsored athletic and non-athletic recreational activities. Instructors and Interns – Instructors and Interns insurance provides important general liability protection for instructors and interns while acting within the scope of their duties granted to them by the sponsoring organization, which is typically a park and recreation department. Team Sports – This combined liability and excess accident medical coverage provides protection to youth and adult sports teams for multiple risks, on and off the playing field. Football – This combined liability and excess accident medical


Members of several agencies collaborated on the Steele Brook streambank stabilization project.

grateful to the Army Corps for the role they played in this project. While the project was designed to ensure public safety, the social and recreational benefits to the local population are immeasurable. There will be many family memories made at Reservoir Park.” JoAnne Castagna, Ed.D., is Public Affairs Specialist and Writer for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, New York District (

coverage provides protection to youth tackle, flag and touch football teams. Equipment Property – Equipment Property insurance provides property coverage for team inventory of sports equipment. It covers all equipment owned by the insured organization while in the building specified for storage. For activities your agency officially sponsors, we can offer standalone excess accident medical coverage for the participants, which is a way for you to provide enhanced value and an incentive for increased participation. This is not only valuable protection for you, but also for your community! For more information, visit, email or call 1.800.722.5676.

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RESEARCH Studying the Health Benefits and Economic Impacts of Parks By Kevin Roth


n 2017, an NRPA study found that local park and recreation agency operating and capital expenditures across the United States generated $166 billion in economic activity and supported 1.1 million jobs. In a few months, NRPA will be sharing an update of that national study (including data for all 50 states and the District of Columbia). There are many other facets to parks and recreation’s economic story, including environmental, business development, tourism, and higher property values (and a larger tax base). Another economic benefit of parks and recreation focuses on health and wellness. Greater physical activity, access to green spaces, and services and programming that promote better health outcomes lead to less reliance on medication, fewer trips to the hospital and lower healthcare costs. Last year, NRPA launched a partnership with researchers at the Urban Institute to develop resources that help park and recreation professionals and advocates make a health-based case for parks, including the development of a method to attach an economic value to those health benefits. In collaboration with an advisory committee of park and recreation professionals and health and equity experts, the multi-year project will result in the creation of an adaptable and practical tool that will provide an economic value of the health impacts of parks. The first product from this partnership is a summary of research findings that show a linkage between parks and recreation and better health and well-being outcomes. The Urban Institute team canvassed a wide variety of research resources, including studies by either NRPA or the Urban Institute, academic journal research studies, case studies, practitioner reports, and guidance


Parks & Recreation

documents and toolkits. In all, the researchers drew from more than 100 reference documents that paint how parks and recreation lead to healthier communities. The resulting report, The Health Benefits of Parks and their Economic Impacts: A Review of the Literature (tiny, presents a thorough review of what we know about how parks and recreation support healthy, productive lives and resilient, cohesive communities. The report divides its findings into several categories: • Parks in Context – Park size, quality, amenities and composition all can affect health. This section of the report highlights research oriented around quality and accessibility, urban versus rural locales, the size of the park, and the impact that perception (and reality) of safety has on park usage. • Physical Health – This section features studies that show a linkage between park access and increased physical activity and looks at how recreational programming, outreach and communication activities can lead to greater levels of physical activity. The result shows a correlation between increased physical activ-

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ity and better health outcomes. • Mental Health – There is significant research that connects parks with positive mental health, resulting from both increased physical activity and being near green space. This may include reductions in stress levels and antisocial behaviors. • Social Health – Parks have the ability to promote social cohesion, which is associated with reduced levels of depression, stress and cardiovascular issues. • Environmental Health – Parks have the ability to improve air quality, help communities adapt to changes in the climate (including providing shade in areas seeing increased heating), and provide support to disaster planning and social resilience. The studies that this report highlight (each with full citations, so you may review the research) provide a holistic view of how parks and recreation make a wide and lasting positive impact on the health and well-being of our communities. Our next step is to use this research as the foundation of an easy-to-use resource to help you calculate an economic value of these benefits that you would use to make the case for greater and more sustainable park and recreation funding. In the meantime, I encourage you to review this report and use its findings as you tell your community why parks and recreation is essential. Kevin Roth is NRPA’s Vice President of Research, Evaluation and Technology (


Parks and Recreation Cultivates Environmental Stewardship

3 in 4

More than U.S. adults agree it is extremely or very important for children and young adults to learn about the environment, as well as ways they can be good environmental stewards in their communities.

Younger generations, such as millennials and Gen Zers, are most likely to believe it is important for youth to become environmentally conscious. Park and recreation agencies are leading providers of programs and spaces where youth can learn about and connect with nature.

Each month, through a poll of 1,000 U.S. residents focused on park and recreation issues, NRPA Park Pulse helps tell the park and recreation story. Questions span from the serious to the more lighthearted. The survey was conducted by Wakefield Research (

Visit for more information.


The National Park Service has been collecting and analyzing data used to understand night sky quality for 20 years.

Measuring and Treasuring Our Night Skies By Sharolyn Anderson, Ph.D., and Ashley Pipkin


he United States National Park Service’s (NPS) Natural Sounds and Night Skies Division (NSNSD) is located within the Natural Resources Stewardship and Science Directorate. The NPS Organic Act, Management Policies and Director’s Orders provide NSNSD with a mandate to protect the sensory resources of natural sounds and night skies. NSNSD measures and assesses the acoustic and nocturnal environments with new and innovative techniques that are based on peer reviewed scientific research and provides highly specialized technical assistance and guidance to 421 park units within the national park system. The division also assists partners in their efforts to keep the soundscape and night sky undisturbed by human noise and artificial light. Protecting the night sky resource is an important part of the NPS mission to “preserve unimpaired the natural and cultural resources and values of the National Park System for the enjoyment, education and inspiration of this and future generations.” The NPS has been collecting and analyzing data used to understand night sky quality for 20 years. Data is collected with a state-of-the-art, charge-coupled


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device camera, which provides a snapshot of the entire sky, aiding in the measurement of artificial light that degrades the night sky. Capturing the essence of a lightscape with numerical data is complex, but advances in technology have made it possible to accurately measure light pollution. When analyzing the hundreds of images collected at NPS units, one thing NSNSD expected to find was

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a greater amount of light pollution coming from outside park boundaries. A surprising finding was that many parks had lighting that was not night-sky friendly and was, in fact, a significant contributor to park light pollution. In an effort to improve lighting and educate park staff, the NPS came out with the resource Best Practices – Night Skies. To assure that night sky-friendly lighting was used in NPS units, NSNSD needed to know where the “bad” lighting lived. To better understand lighting in NPS units, parks began performing lighting inventories, which are a way to collect lighting information, such as function, shielding and color temperature to quickly determine if that light needs to remain, be removed or replaced. Through the lighting inventory process, parks can ensure that they

are using best management practices by only using lighting when and where it is appropriate, and by replacing lighting that disrupts the nocturnal environment for visitors and wildlife. The NPS, in coordination with many partners, has developed a tool using the ArcGIS suite of products to organize lighting information. Completing a lighting inventory also is a mandatory step for certification as an International Dark Sky Park. Currently, there are 36 NPS units certified by the International Dark-Sky Association (IDA). This certification gives parks that work to interpret, protect and share their night sky the recognition they deserve. All IDA-certified park applications can be found on the NSNSD website, including information about sky quality and night-sky friendly lighting. Parks and park partners are encouraged to reach out to the Colorado Plateau Dark Sky Cooperative or the NPS NSNSD to develop a timeline to acquire the tools and personnel needed to complete a lighting inventory and subsequent lighting management plans. Since 2001, the NPS has collected data in more than 100 national parks (for more information on these data collection methods, check out: NPS Methods – Night Skies at tinyurl. com/5xhbnrra). Many of the methods and resources used by NSNSD are available to the public via NSNSD websites, publications and by contacting the division directly. You can learn more about the NPS night skies work by visiting Subjects/NightSkies or by visiting the Night Skies of the U.S. National Park Service Story Map (tinyurl. com/5r58nyc8). We are all under one big night sky and are happy to collab-

orate to protect our shared night. Editor’s Note: The above originally appeared as a post on the Colorado Plateau Dark Sky Cooperative blog. To read the original text published on February 16,

visit Sharolyn Anderson, Ph.D., is a Physical Scientist at National Park Service Natural Sounds and Night Skies Division. Ashley Pipkin is a Biologist at National Park Service Natural Sounds and Night Skies Division.

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Farmers markets are a key part of the impact parks and recreation has on community health and well-being.

Farmers Markets Play a Key Role in Resiliency Efforts By Maureen Neumann


he partnership between local parks and recreation and farmers markets is a natural one that supports both entities as stewards of the land and connects community members to health and well-being opportunities. Over the years, we’ve seen an increase in park and recreation agencies hosting farmers markets themselves or entering into a shared-use agreement with a local market to support access to local agriculture opportunities. But how does hosting a weekly market support broad conservation efforts? Often, markets located on parkland are in central, walkable locations. This creates more equitable access to the market and reduces transportation burdens, like fuel use and emissions. Additionally, these markets promote the advancement of emerging farmers who diversify the agriculture business, increase product variety, and understand the role of health food in their community and the importance of responsible land-use techniques.


Parks & Recreation

The collaboration of markets and parks and recreation also can serve a responsive role. When months of rainfall depleted local crops in Arkansas City, Kansas, in 2019, the Arkansas City Recreation Commission continued to host its weekly market. Although a limited number of produce growers could sell at the market, the weekly activity provided a chance for people to support the agriculture community while still enjoying the social connections

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the market provided. The recreation commission provided evening meals through the federal child nutrition Summer Food Service Program with complimentary entertainment, like scavenger hunts and live music. All of this led to sustained market attendance, something that supported local growers as they returned throughout the season following the devastating impacts of local flooding. As a direct result of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, the Arkansas City Recreation Commission and Tunica (Mississippi) Parks Board, both key players in their local agriculture and farmers market systems, saw their communities face local economic hardships, resulting in limited meal programs, limited income for community members to purchase healthy foods, and barriers to accessing those foods, such as limited transportation options. Arkansas City distributed evening meals to children during market hours and introduced Supplemental Nutrition

Assistance Program (SNAP) Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) card acceptance at their market. To support community members, $190 in SNAP EBT tokens were distributed over three months, with $167 in token redemption at the market — all supporting local farmers who also were impacted by the pandemic. Using its land as a key resource, Tunica distributed produce grown in its onsite hoop house (greenhouse) and community garden to those in need through a communitysupported agriculture program. Produce was planted, grown and harvested by youth during out-ofschool time programs, then shared through boxes available for pickup. SNAP recipients had first access, with remaining produce distributed at the Paul Battle Arena through a partnership with the Mid-South Food Bank. During eight donation days, 270 community members received 15-pound boxes of fresh produce — a total of 4,050 pounds of food. This use of hoop houses and community gardens continued through 2021, with direct input from the community. To ensure no food was wasted, the board surveyed community members in the fall of 2020, asking what produce they would like to receive. Based on the results, the requested seeds were planted and harvested, reducing the amount of food waste while supporting the health and nutrition of community members. The relationship between parks and recreation and farmers markets is important and scalable for communities across the country to support more resilient communities. From sustainable land management practices, to carbon emissions reduction, to equitable community agricultural trade, to the advancement of the

importance of land stewardship, farmers markets are a key part of the impact parks and recreation has on community health and well-being. For more information and re-

sources, visit NRPA’s farmers market resource webpage ( FarmersMarkets). Maureen Neumann (she/her) is Senior Health Program Manager at NRPA (

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Parks & Recreation




Becoming an Equitable and Just Organization

While systemic racism impacts all corners of our society, we must not forget that people create systems.

By August M. Ball


ow do we do this work without causing discomfort or disruption? This is the question I often receive from potential clients preparing to begin their journey of racial equity work in the environmental sector. My answer? You don’t. By pure nature of the work, becoming a just, equitable and inclusive organization requires disruption — disruption of standard workplace practices that are rooted in white middle class norms, and therefore, tend to primarily serve that demographic.

With many individuals within environmental organizations (or park and recreation agencies) finding discomfort with even the very usage of race-based words, it’s really no surprise how little progress has been made upon the actual problem of racial homogeneity in the field. If you can’t talk about it, how will you solve for it? What I have found through my own work as a company culture 24

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consultant is that the most effective way to reach the desired future state of being an equitable and just organization requires the following five steps: Make peace with the reality that this work does not have a finish line. I often compare this work to getting healthy. We can drink lots of water, eat heaps of leafy greens and manage our stress, but the moment we stop incorpo-


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rating healthy practices, our health declines. The same is true for the health of our organizational culture. Being anti-oppressive must be baked into everything an organization does. Consequently, if we try to cheat the process, we may find ourselves doing irreparable harm. Get a benchmark of where you are. Don’t just track your diversity metrics. Track your inclusion and belonging metrics. Make sure the organizational culture assessment you are conducting is holistic and intersectional. You’ll want to be able to compare the responses from your survey participants by social demographics. Why is this important? First, the data helps address common pushback from individuals who feel the problem


“isn’t that bad” or, worse yet, don’t believe there is a problem at all. Second, it gives your organization insight into where you are thriving and where you have areas of opportunity. As a bonus, it allows you to compare growth year to year as you reassess your organization. Establish shared language. We can’t solve a problem we don’t understand. We are all going to be at different places in terms of this work. Where we are is not an indication of our character or values, but simply the manifestation of what information we have been exposed to. In light of numerous bans on books and literature that tell the truth about our nation’s history and help make sense of how the societal inequities we are working to solve came to be, I fear the collective societal knowledge base will continue to decline, leaving future colleagues even more ill-informed about race than their predecessors. This casts an additional burden on organizations and agencies to provide education to their staff that will support their ability to contribute to a workplace culture where all can thrive. Align to values and mission. Another common pushback I hear from environmental organizations (conservation entities specifically) is the mindset that: “We are a conservation organization, not a social justice program.” To that, my reply is: “Yes, and you are also not an EMT [emergency medical technician] organization, but do you not require your field staff to secure training in first aid and CPR?” Anti-bias and antioppression education is no different. If done well, it provides us with information to help us manage our mindsets and behaviors


and contribute positively to culture. Fail forward. Comb your organizational practices for attributes of white supremacy culture ( Perfectionism, false sense of urgency, worship of the written word and many other characteristics tend to infect many of our organizations, and none of us are absolved. We must question what we think we know about professionalism, relationship with time, etc. If you are more concerned with looking like a good person rather than actually helping to create an environment that fosters justice and belonging for marginalized people, you are not doing the work. A participant in one of my workshops recently offered this inconvenient albeit helpful thought


to fellow attendees: “If you are on a journey of becoming anti-racist/ anti-biased and don’t look back on things you have said and thought months prior and cringe, you haven’t grown.” The line between offering ourselves grace while holding ourselves accountable is thin, but not invisible. While systemic racism impacts all corners of our society, we must not forget that people create systems and in order to change the inequitable systems we see, we must change the people who uphold these inequitable systems, regardless of whether they are doing so consciously or unconsciously. August M. Ball is Founder of Cream City Conservation (


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In the case of Sons of the Southern Cross v. Hurst, a Confederate heritage organization claimed an “American flags only” rule for a parade had violated its First Amendment rights.

Confederate Flag Removed From City Christmas Parade By James C. Kozlowski, J.D., Ph.D.


n the case of Sons of the Southern Cross v. Hurst, 2022 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 14219 (W.D. Ark. 1/26/2022), a Confederate heritage organization claimed a new “American flags only” rule for an annual Christmas parade had violated its First Amendment rights.

For many years, The Old Town Merchants Association (TOTMA) in the City of Van Buren, Arkansas, had applied for and received a permit from the City of Van Buren (the City) to hold an evening Christmas parade on Main Street in downtown Van Buren. Historically, parade participants constructed parade floats and drove them down a portion of Main Street as parade attendees lined the street. TOTMA would place temporary roadblocks on cross streets and Van Buren police officers directed traffic away 26

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from and around the parade. Plaintiff James Bible had lived in Crawford County, Arkansas, for approximately 15 or 20 years. He is the founder, president and national commander of Sons of the Southern Cross, Inc., a national Confederate heritage organization headquartered in Crawford County. Plaintiffs had participated in the TOTMA Christmas parade for approximately 10 years. During that time, Plaintiffs regularly (and perhaps always) flew a Confederate battle flag from their float. In

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January 2020, TOTMA received a permit from the City for its 2020 Christmas parade. The City added the parade to the calendar of events on its website to be held on December 12, 2020. As various public health responses, such as masking and physical distancing, were deployed in 2020 in response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, TOTMA decided to hold a “reverse Christmas parade,” in which floats would remain stationary along the Main Street parade route and parade attendees would drive down Main Street to view the stationary floats in the evening. TOTMA board member Lindsay Dodson acted as parade organizer and chair and unilaterally drafted rules that parade participants agreed to follow as part of their applications. Later in the year and closer to the time of the parade, Dodson contacted Mayor Joseph Hurst for confirmation that the

reverse parade should not be canceled in light of ongoing coronavirus (COVID-19) related restrictions. Dodson also contacted the Van Buren Police Department to discuss differences in the logistics of traffic direction for a reverse parade. Among the rules created by Dodson for TOTMA’s 2020 reverse Christmas parade was a prohibition on floats displaying any flag other than the flag of the United States of America. Bible heard these rules read aloud at a Crawford County Republican Committee meeting before Plaintiffs submitted their application for the 2020 reverse parade. The application also identified TOTMA member Joy Holman as a parade organizer and listed her contact information, but Holman had no decision-making authority over TOTMA’s parade. Apart from her duties as a point of contact, Holman only helped Dodson place floats on Main Street. Because Plaintiffs previously had displayed a Confederate flag on their float without issue, approximately one month before the parade, Bible’s daughter placed a call to Holman. During a phone conversation with Holman, she explained that Plaintiffs always had displayed their Confederate flag in the past, mentioned the 2020 “American flags only” rule, and asked whether Plaintiffs would be allowed to display the Confederate flag from their float during TOTMA’s 2020 reverse parade. Holman was familiar with the Sons of the Southern Cross organization and told Hickerson she was fine with the Confederate flag and with Plaintiffs displaying the Confederate flag from their float. Subsequently, one of the treasurers for

Sons of the Southern Cross filled out and submitted an application for the parade. Bible, his family and members of Sons of the Southern Cross then spent time and money preparing their float. The float displayed silhouettes of two American Civil War soldiers kneeling on either side of a fabric-draped cross. Below the cross was a manger and a lit sign reading, “Under One God.” Tents were erected on either side of the float behind the soldier silhouettes. One tent was labeled “US” and an American flag was posted behind it. The other tent was labeled “CS” and a Confederate flag was posted behind it. Plaintiffs intended their float to communicate that Union soldiers and Confederate soldiers both worshipped one God and that Confederate soldiers and the Confederate flag were not evil. Eight days before the parade, Bible called Holman to, again, communicate Plaintiffs’ intent to display the Confederate flag from their float. Holman told Bible that Sons of the Southern Cross had participated in the parade for a decade without issue and flying the Confederate flag would be fine. After one of the calls with Bible or his daughter, Holman told Dodson about the conversation. Dodson explained that the rule was clear in the application that only the American flag could be displayed on a float. Holman did not call Plaintiffs back to correct her misstatement of the rules. On the morning of TOTMA’s reverse parade, Plaintiffs set up their float on Main Street. After setting up the float, Bible and those who assisted him in setting up Plaintiffs’ float left. In the early afternoon, a

few hours before the reverse parade was set to begin, a member of the public drove through the parade route and noticed the Confederate flag displayed on Plaintiffs’ float. This member of the public was bothered by the Confederate flag’s presence in a Christmas parade and, believing it was divisive, contacted Mayor Hurst with her complaint using Facebook Messenger. Mayor Hurst responded that he understood her concerns, but the parade was organized and run by TOTMA. A Facebook message was then sent to TOTMA. Dodson saw the complaint, but she did not respond. The member of the public then messaged Mayor Hurst to tell him TOTMA had not responded. A bit later, Mayor Hurst responded to her by saying, “I just talked to TOTMA, and this is supposed to be removed . . . no flags.” That same afternoon, Holman was in Dodson’s store on Main Street. Dodson was busy managing last-minute parade details, including cancellations due to COVID-19, when she received the member of the public’s Facebook complaint. Matt Dodson (a member of both TOTMA and the Van Buren City Council, and Lindsay Dodson’s husband) entered the store holding his phone and told his wife that “Mayor Hurst’s been getting multiple calls and texts on his business and personal phone about the Confederate flag being displayed, and we needed to have them take it down.” Lindsay Dodson walked down to Plaintiffs’ float to confirm the presence of the Confederate flag and direct Plaintiffs to remove it, but no one was there. She then returned to her store to deal with other parade

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business. Dodson’s husband called Mayor Hurst to tell him TOTMA was having the Confederate flag removed. At some point, another TOTMA board member, Daniel Perry, went to Dodson’s store to offer to help with the parade. In addition to being one of three at-large board members of TOTMA, Perry is a lieutenant with the Van Buren Police Department. He was not wearing his uniform that day but was on duty overseeing the two police officers the City assigned to direct parade-affected traffic. Dodson had pulled Plaintiffs’ signed application form that displayed the parade rules and was leaving her store to return to the float to talk to Plaintiffs regarding the flag’s presence on their float. She told Perry that Mayor Hurst had received complaints that the Confederate flag was being flown on Plaintiffs’ float even though TOTMA’s rules prohibited it, and asked Perry to go have Plaintiffs take it down. Perry went to the float and, again, no one was there, so he returned to Dodson, got Plaintiffs’ phone number from their application, and called. Bible’s wife answered and Perry introduced himself as a TOTMA board member and as a Van Buren police officer. Bible’s wife brought the phone to Bible, and Perry, again, introduced himself as a member of TOTMA and a Van Buren police officer. Perry then explained Mayor Hurst was receiving complaints about the Confederate flag, and Plaintiffs either needed to take the flag down or remove the float, or it would be towed. Bible refused and hung up. After some discussion with his 28

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family, Bible then called Perry back and offered to remove the Confederate battle flag and replace it with the first national flag of the Confederate States of America — a flag Bible believed few would recognize or view as divisive. Perry rejected the compromise and, again, told Bible to remove the flag or the float or the float would be towed, and if it could not be, the parade would be shut down. Ultimately, the decision was made to remove the float. Plaintiffs slowly towed the float down Main Street to the courthouse, where they stopped and disassembled those parts of the float designed only for display, rather than towing. Plaintiffs then towed the trailer to various locations around Van Buren to publicly display what they still could of the float before returning it home for full disassembly. The following Monday, Bible called Holman to ask why Plaintiffs had been ordered out of the parade. Holman told Bible TOTMA had to do what Mayor Hurst told them to do.

Flag Flying Protected Expression As noted by the federal district court: “The flying of a flag is expressive conduct protected from governmental regulation by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution”: The Court for decades has recognized the communicative connotations of the use of flags. In many of their uses, flags are a form of symbolism comprising a primitive but effective way of communicating ideas, and a shortcut from mind to mind. As described by the court, the City claimed “Plaintiffs’ flying of

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the Confederate flag was not expressive conduct that could be protected by the First Amendment” because, in the context of this particular case, “there was not a great likelihood viewers would understand Plaintiffs’ intended message.” The federal district court rejected this argument. Citing “the well-settled standard used to evaluate expressive conduct,” the court acknowledged that it “does not matter whether parade attendees understood Plaintiffs’ intended message.” According to the court, “a narrow, succinctly articulable message is not a condition of constitutional protection.” On the contrary, the court found the issue in this instance was whether “parade attendees would reasonably understand that Plaintiffs were communicating through the use of the Confederate flag, that Plaintiffs’ conduct was expressive.” Moreover, the court acknowledged that “a message may be delivered by conduct that is intended to be communicative and that, in context, would reasonably be understood by the viewer to be communicative.” As characterized by the court, Plaintiffs’ intended message could be interpreted as “Confederate and Union soldiers worshipped the same deity and that Confederate soldiers and the Confederate flag were not evil, or instead believed Plaintiffs were communicating an intent to sow division or support white supremacy.” Accordingly, the federal district court found Plaintiffs’ flying of the Confederate flag was “unquestionably expressive conduct protected from government restriction by the First Amendment to the Constitution.” That being said, the court also recognized TOTMA’s First Amend-

ment right to make rules for their own private parade participants. The First Amendment would, therefore, not require TOTMA “to allow participants in its parade to engage in any expressive conduct they like.”

Section 1983 Claim Turning to the substance of Plaintiffs’ claims, the federal district court cited 42 U.S.C. § 1983, which would allow governmental liability under federal civil rights law when a statute, ordinance, regulation, custom or usage deprives an individual of “any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws.” 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Further, the court noted: “A municipality constitutes a person for purposes of § 1983 but is liable only when action pursuant to official municipal policy of some nature caused a constitutional tort.” While 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and “the First Amendment guarantee of free speech guards against abridgment through state action alone,” the federal district court acknowledged the First Amendment “does not inhibit private restrictions on speech.” Within the context of this particular case, the federal district court would, therefore, find the City liable to Plaintiffs under § 1983 “only if the City, or a private person whose action may be fairly treated as that of the municipality itself, restricted Plaintiffs’ speech.”

Public/Private Nexus According to the court, “Private action may be fairly attributed to a municipality only when there is a close nexus between the municipality and the challenged action”: The one unyielding requirement is that there be a “close nexus” not

merely between the state and the private party, but between the state and the alleged deprivation itself. In this particular instance, the court found “no dispute of fact that when TOTMA, through board member and parade organizer Lindsay Dodson, imposed the ‘American Flags only’ rule on the reverse Christmas parade…TOTMA did so solely as a private actor”: TOTMA applied for a parade permit and the City granted the permit in January 2020, allowing TOTMA to block off a portion of Main Street to non-parade traffic...TOTMA established rules and reviewed applications for parade participation without input from the City. The City added the parade to its online calendar of events occurring in the City and sent police officers to control traffic around the parade area. Under such circumstances, the federal district court held: “No reasonable juror could find that this conduct pervasively entwined the City and TOTMA such that it made TOTMA’s parade the City’s parade.” Similarly, the court could not find any indication of a “nexus, close or otherwise, between TOTMA’s decision to impose an ‘American flags only’ rule on its parade and the City’s decision to grant TOTMA a parade permit.”

City’s Role in Flag Removal Under these circumstances, the primary legal issue before the federal district court was, therefore, whether TOTMA parade organizer Dodson was a “private actor” when she enforced TOTMA’s “American flags only” rule by asking Perry, a TOTMA member and City police officer, to “direct Plaintiffs to re-

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move either the Confederate flag from their float or their float from the parade.” If Dodson was a private actor at the time, the federal district court would maintain that “neither the City nor TOTMA is liable to Plaintiffs.” In so doing, the court recognized that “a municipality cannot compel private parade organizers to include speech in their parades,” and similarly, “it cannot compel them to exclude it.” As a result, the court found the City could be liable to Plaintiffs under § 1983 if TOTMA was compelled by the City to have Plaintiffs remove the flag or float. In addition, both the City and TOTMA could be liable under § 1983, “if the City was so pervasively entwined in TOTMA’s decision at the parade to remove Plaintiffs’ flag or Plaintiffs’ float that TOTMA’s conduct was fairly attributable to the City.” Accordingly, to overcome the City’s motion for summary judgment and proceed to trial, Plaintiffs would have to demonstrate sufficient evidence in the pretrial record to show either compulsion by the City or pervasive entwinement of TOTMA with the City in the decision to remove Plaintiffs’ flag. In the opinion of the federal district court, there was insufficient evidence in the pretrial record to indicate the City had compelled TOTMA to remove Plaintiffs’ flag or float from the parade. In particular, the court cited testimony from Dodson that she had made her decision before she ever learned that Mayor Hurst had received public complaints about Plaintiffs’ Confederate Flag and had indicated “we needed to have them take it down.” Dodson had further testified that she saw a complaint on TOTMA’s Facebook 30

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page, which prompted her to ask Plaintiffs to abide by parade rules and she “believed they had agreed to and remove either their flag or their float.” While Joy Holman had testified that she believed Mayor Hurst was ordering TOTMA to direct Plaintiffs to remove the flag, the court found Holman was “not a TOTMA decision-maker” whose subjective beliefs were “relevant to whether TOTMA perceived Mayor Hurst’s communication as compulsion.” In the opinion of the court, Lindsay Dodson was the “relevant TOTMA decision-maker” and there was no testimony to indicate Dodson “understood Mayor Hurst’s communication to be an order.” Based on Holman’s opinion, Plaintiffs had claimed “TOTMA was compelled to obey because Mayor Hurst is ‘the director of our city’ and ‘in charge.’” The federal district court rejected this argument. In the opinion of the court, Holman’s opinion did not provide a rational basis to conclude TOTMA was required to obey Mayor Hurst: There is no evidence that the laws of the City of Van Buren or the controlling documents for TOTMA require TOTMA to obey requests or commands from the Mayor about what flags are or are not allowed on a float in TOTMA’s parade. Further, the federal district court acknowledged: “Private action is not converted into state action unless the state has compelled the act; mere acquiescence is not enough.” As cited by the court, Dodson’s undisputed testimony indicated she had “decided, independently” of Mayor Hurst’s communication to have Plaintiffs remove their flag. Accordingly, the court found the re-

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cord demonstrated “TOTMA board member and parade organizer Lindsay Dodson’s decision to exclude Plaintiffs’ flag or Plaintiffs’ float was the decision of a private actor and was not compelled by the City.”

City Parade Enforcement Plaintiffs also had argued that “the City was so pervasively entwined with the enforcement of parade rules that TOTMA’s decision to have Plaintiffs remove their flag or float was fairly attributable to the City.” In so doing, Plaintiffs cited phone calls with Perry, in which he identified himself as a police officer with regard to enforcing the “American flags only” rule. During these calls, however, the court cited testimony indicating Perry was “not uniformed at the time he was enforcing the rule” and was “acting in his capacity as a TOTMA board member.” That being said, if Perry had “leaned on his authority as a police officer when he enforced the rule,” the court noted “a reasonable jury could find Perry was a state actor.” Assuming Perry was a “state actor” under these circumstances, the federal district court, nevertheless, held Perry’s role in enforcing the private rule was still “not enough for official capacity liability against the City and TOTMA”: Plaintiffs must also show that Perry’s enforcement of private rules as a state actor was pursuant to the City’s official policies or customs. They cannot do so. Again, it is undisputed that the City did not impose the “American flags only” rule, and it is not genuinely disputed that TOTMA was not compelled by the City to enforce TOTMA’s own rule. As characterized by the federal

district court, “Perry’s enforcement of a private rule was pursuant to the direct request of TOTMA, acting through Lindsay Dodson”: This is a case where a parade participant was directed by the parade organizer to remove a flag from a float. Assuming still that Perry acted as a police officer and state actor when he directed Plaintiffs to remove their flag or their float, his conduct was no different than the conduct of a police officer being called to remove a trespasser... . [A] private party’s mere invocation of state legal procedures does not constitute state action.

Permit Did Not Regulate Speech While “TOTMA had a permit from

the City for a reverse parade,” the federal district court also found the parade permit did not compel “TOTMA’s decision about what speech its parade participants expressed during that parade.” Moreover, the federal district court found TOTMA’s decision to remove Plaintiffs’ flag or float from TOTMA’s parade was not “compelled by or fairly attributable to the City.” As a result, the court held Plaintiffs had failed to demonstrate the City had violated 42 U.S.C. § 1983 because the alleged deprivation of their Confederate flag message had not “resulted from the exercise of a right or privilege having its source in state authority.” The federal district court, therefore, granted the City’s motion for

summary judgment and dismissed Plaintiffs lawsuit. See also: “Free Speech and Public/Private Events,” James C. Kozlowski. Parks & Recreation. Apr. 2006. Vol. 41, Iss. 4. lawarts/04APR06.pdf and “Gay Pride Message Not Accommodated In City Parade Organized By Private Association,” James C. Kozlowski. Parks & Recreation. Sep. 1995. Vol. 30, Iss. 9; p. 28 m a s o n . g mu . e d u / ~ j k oz l ow s / lawarts/09SEP95.pdf. James C. Kozlowski, J.D., Ph.D., is an Attorney and Associate Professor in the School of Sport, Recreation and Tourism Management at George Mason University ( Law review articles archive (1982 to present):

Hyatt Lodge | Oak Brook, Illinois August 14-18, 2022



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Lindo Lake in San Diego County, California, in 2014, after successive years of extreme drought.

CLIMA CHA Meeting the Challenge of


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By Richard J. Dolesh


n any given day in any given park across the United States, climate change may not seem like a big deal. Sure, there may be some parks that are flooded somewhere and there may be some parks on fire elsewhere, but by and large, the vast public trust of our local, state and national parks is in good shape. However, it is also true that virtually every park in every state in every locality is facing an existential threat from a rapidly changing climate.


Climate change is changing the way parks are planned, designed, managed and programmed

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ricanes, droughts, heat waves, wildfires, and wide-spread derechos, or wind events, according to NOAA. Paradoxically, a rapidly warming climate does not mean that it will just continue to get hotter, but rather that weather and climate cycles will become more unpredictable and more severe. Importantly, those who are least able to withstand these extremes will be most vulnerable to them. “Climate change impacts and weather-related hazards have had life-changing and devastating impacts” on communities everywhere, according to WMO Secretary General Petteri Taalas. There are many indirect effects of climate change as well. While causal links are not yet fully proven, they are highly indicative of being climate related. Threebillion birds have disappeared from North America in the past 30 years, nearly one-third of all birds ( The coming of the so-called “insect apocalypse,” in which insect


According to the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), which tracks multiple datasets of global weather records, the past seven years have been the hottest years ever recorded. Every decade since 1980 has been hotter than the previous one, and that trend is expected to continue for decades to come despite all efforts to mitigate increasing temperatures. Long-term warming trends are now greater than the annual variability in global average temperatures of natural climate cycles. A new technical report on sea level rise issued by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in February 2022, states that by 2050, damaging tidal and coastal flooding will be 10 times more likely on average than it is today. In addition to warming temperatures and rapidly accelerating sea level rise, 2021 saw 20 $1 billion weather disasters, second only to 2020, which had 22 $1 billion events. These included extreme rains and floods, intense winter storms, hur-


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populations that are foundational to ecosystem health will crash, has been documented already in certain areas of Europe where the abundance and diversity of insect species have declined 75 percent in less than 30 years. Along with these factors indirectly attributed to climate change are the explosion of invasive species; increases in human health risks from extreme heat, drought, air pollution and floods; and the accelerating loss of biodiversity in developed areas and natural landscapes. Whether park and recreation leaders have planned sufficiently to anticipate future conditions or not, the pace of climate change will now affect every aspect of the field, from park planning to park design to park management to recreation programming. When viewed as strategic assets of cities and counties in adapting to the impacts of climate change, parks serve vital functions — as buffers to extreme heat, storage areas for stormwater, refuges of biodiversity, and places of respite to maintain human health. As the pace of climate change accelerates, parks can no longer be just singlepurpose public amenities. Parks must become multi-benefit assets to their immediately surrounding communities and the regions they are in.

The Role of Parks What are the greatest threats from climate change right now? “You cannot really single out one standalone factor,” says David Rouse, former research director for the American Planning Association and co-author The Seattle Parks and Recreation (SPR) climate resiliency report can serve as a model for any agency’s climate resilience planning. The photo shows The West Point Light located on the shore of SPR’s Discovery Park in Puget Sound.

of the highly acclaimed book, The Comprehensive Plan: Sustainable, Resilient, and Equitable Communities for the 21st Century. “Heat is probably the greatest threat. It will be impossible to go outside in some areas of the country during the heat of the summer,” he says. “And drought is the companion to extreme heat.” Other experts identify related threats, such as sea level rise and flooding or violent storms, depending on which areas of the country are being affected. “Communities need to look at a spectrum of the most critical threats and be prepared to deal with the shocks of single events and the endemic effects of long-term stresses as they occur,” Rouse continues. “But the greatest of threat[s] from climate change [are] inequality and a lack of equity. Parks cannot solve this alone.” In San Diego County, Brian Albright, director of parks and recreation, says, “For us, the greatest threats are extreme heat and wildfires. When viewed in the context of our recent history over the last 25 years, heat and wildfires are changing the very nature of our parks and open space areas. For example, after wildfires, what comes back is not necessarily what was there before or even what we want to see in the landscape. We are restoring our forests with the right mix of trees and vegetation to be sure we reduce community heat islands and manage stormwater throughout the landscape.” Ignacio Bunster-Ossa, vice president of landscape urbanism and resilience at The Collaborative in Philadelphia, has been called one of America’s leading landscape architects and urban designers. He says, “The problem is that climate change is not urgent in most people’s minds. Park designers and


The scorched landscape of Sycamore Canyon Preserve in San Diego County.

planners need to become advocates, too. We have the responsibility to put the facts before elected officials and funders. It is up to us to say, ‘Here are ways we can address the problem.’ The changes are inevitable and will only happen at a faster rate in the future.” “What should a park be?” asks Bunster-Ossa. “We are at a point of inflection. Are parks just lawns and trees, landscaped areas, and recreation amenities, or are they something more? In the face of climate change, parks must become something more. We must be looking at the entire system, and it is going to have to change.”

Systems Thinking Maria Nardi, director of MiamiDade County Department of Parks, Recreation and Open Spaces, agrees that a holistic view of their entire park and recreation system is critical. “We have to look at every part of our system and how we connect blueways and greenways and streets and communities. We must understand the impacts of climate change to the entire system, not just to the individual pieces. This also helps us understand how our park system shapes the entire county and region and how it builds the health of individual communities.” Signe Nielsen, landscape ar-

chitect, founding principal of Mathews Nielsen Landscape Architects and designer of Little Island, a unique waterfront park over the Hudson River in New York City, says that without question, parks will be seen as strategic assets in responding to the impacts of climate change. “As Mitch Silver [former director of New York City Department of Parks and Recreation] frequently says, ‘Parks are critical infrastructure.’ I am a huge supporter of that belief. In terms of health and equity, quality parks are vital, especially to those who are most vulnerable.” Without exception and across disciplines, experts in landscape architecture, comprehensive planning and park design believe it is absolutely necessary to plan and act now. “I believe the most important thing we need to address regarding climate change is to plan,” says Jason Hellendrung, vice president of planning and design for Tetra Tech, an international engineering and consulting firm. “So often, agencies and municipalities are not doing the planning that will be necessary to meet the challenges of climate change. A part of this planning is looking at what your vulnerabilities to climate change are and where to make investments. This is where a large measure of urgency needs to be.”

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Many national corporations, including financial and insurance companies, are engaging analytics firms to conduct climate-risk forecasting to better quantify the physical, economic and transition risks of climate change. While some cities, counties and municipal governments have begun to engage in developing climate-risk scenarios, few park and recreation agencies have done so to this point, despite mounting evidence of substantial climate risk to parks, facilities, shorelines and built infrastructure.

The reasons why agencies have not begun to plan for climate risk are many — a lack of urgency, competing priorities, insufficient budget, and worse, the unwillingness to see the gravity of the risks. Seattle Parks and Recreation is a good example of an agency that is taking climate change planning seriously. Its report, Climate Resiliency in Seattle’s Parks and Recreation System (, released in January 2022, is an excellent model for how park and recreation agencies can assess vulner-

Pergolas sit along Georgetown’s waterfront in Washington, D.C. The vines planted to grow up and over them for shade “were a little harder to train than we originally thought,” says landscape architect Ignacio Bunster-Ossa.


Matheson Hammock Park


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The areas in red show the extent of so-called “sunny-day flooding” from king tides in MiamiDade’s Matheson Hammock Park.

abilities, evaluate possible climate scenarios, and prioritize resources and courses of action for budget planning and policy direction.

Finding Solutions In Hampton, Virginia, nuisance flooding and sea level rise are serious climate change threats. Carolyn Heaps, resiliency officer for the city, says they are currently updating their park master plan to integrate resilience and climate adaptation features along with other priorities. “We are looking at the realities of the future,” she says. Scott Smith, senior civil engineer for the city, says, “As an older urban city that is largely built out and subject to recurrent flooding from sea level rise, we don’t have a lot of spaces to store stormwater. We have to come up with innovative ways to create new stormwater storage and the handling of floodwaters.” To prove this concept, the city is applying innovative green infrastructure principles to retrofit Honor Park, a memorial park near city hall, which honors fallen heroes of Hampton. The city’s goal is to create additional stormwater capacity in a developed urban area. Engineering consultants Brown and Caldwell suggested constructed wetlands, a stormwater overflow area into an amphitheater, and bioretention cells to slow and hold water, along with tree plantings, benches and special soil amendments. “This is a pilot for us, that if successful, will show what can be done in other parks and public areas,” says Smith. They are applying the same principles to the retrofitting of Big Bethel Blueway, a largely overgrown stormwater floodway. “Water quality is a priority for us as well,” says Heaps. “In both parks, we are meeting the regulatory goals for water quality and getting mul-


A concept plan for the redesign of Honor Park in Hampton, Virginia, utilizes green infrastructure principles to slow, retain and infiltrate stormwater coming into the park from city streets.

tiple other benefits, including additional stormwater storage capacity, biodiversity protection and public recreation access.”

Reducing the Impacts of Climate Change One of the most immediate challenges facing park designers and managers is providing enough shade to reduce the impacts of extreme heat. Whether it is for activity areas in new parks or existing parks, the challenge of providing sufficient shade is vexing park managers in virtually every area of the country. “Due to the extreme heat that we are seeing during our summers, we have been incorporating shade structures into any new or replacement playgrounds,” says Bill Offutt, park operations manager for Anne Arundel County Parks and Recreation in Maryland. Mike Shull, general manager of the City of Los Angeles Department of Recreation and Parks, says, “We can build a million-dollar playground and unless it has shade, no one will use it during the heat of the day.” In planning parks, “One of our first considerations is what does the community need?” says Nielsen. “What is the context of the site? What risks is the site subjected to? For us, in New York City, it is drought, heavy rains and extreme heat. Those are our givens. We look at how we can employ green infrastructure principles in design and construction and how we can make the park more resilient. In retrofitting parks, we think about adding more trees, increasing the diversity of plant species, and whether there can be better rain and stormwater capture. Managing stormwater in parks is often a missed opportunity. If possible, we think

about alternative and renewable energy sources, such as solar, and especially, we think how we can add shade, man-made or natural.” Martha Schwartz, noted urban design expert and professor in practice in landscape architecture at the Harvard University Graduate School of Design, says that we must look at our cities and urban areas as working ecological systems. “When we understand what the land can do, it is amazing. Cities must expand the amount of open space within their boundaries. Working ecosystems are based on interconnectivity. The best way we can connect our natural spaces and parks is through interconnected urban forests, not just a bunch of trees planted in a line.”

The Cost of Inaction Schwartz asks, “What is the cost of climate change? If we commit to the costs [of adaptation and mitigation] now, it will cost a lot more than business as usual. If we wait, however, it will cost an insane amount of money.” In addition to forecasting the risks to natural systems and the built environment, we need to understand the risks to human health. While the effects of extreme heat exposure to adults are well documented, a new meta-analysis in the January 2022 issue of Environmental Health Perspec-

tives reports that in an analysis of 4 million emergency room visits of children to 47 hospitals during 2016 to 2018, treatment for heat stressrelated illnesses in children and youth was nearly one-third higher than for adults and up to one-quarter higher than adults for bacterial intestinal infections ( These disproportionately higher rates of certain illnesses in children and youth represent a new threshold in understanding the health impacts of climate change on children. An equal measure of concern must be given to those who are most vulnerable to these stresses, including low-income communities, minority populations, children, older adults and those who must work outdoors in extreme heat, including our own park and recreation workers. Schwartz says, “Parks are not an amenity anymore. They are an absolute necessity. We must look at the risks we face. We have solutions and we can live in balance with nature. Parks will be a critical part of the solution.” Nardi says, “Parks are being seen more and more as the underpinnings of strategies for climate change adaptation and mitigation. Parks are the green heart of our communities.” Richard J. Dolesh is NRPA’s retired Vice President of Strategic Initiatives and Editor-at-Large for Parks & Recreation magazine (

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Climate Change and the Threat to

Racial Equity How natural disasters and global warming expose environmental injustices By Vitisia Paynich


n February 2021, fierce winter snowstorms blasted the state of Texas with extreme cold temperatures that froze waterpipes and besieged the state’s energy grid, causing blackouts across communities large and small. Millions of Texans grappled with a lack of electricity, heat, food and water while awaiting state and federal emergency response. Meanwhile, park and recreation professionals sprang into action to help their communities. City of Dallas Parks and Recreation, for example, opened its parking lots to chartered buses and mobile homes, which served as “Mobile Warming Centers” for residents to warm up, grab a meal and charge their devices ( While “The Great Texas Freeze” of last year inspired countless stories of local organizations and community members helping neighbors in need, it also reiterated a hard truth about climate change and the collateral damage natural disasters inflict — racial inequity. Parks & Recreation magazine takes a closer look at climate change disparities related to race. It’s important to note that the professionals interviewed for this article are not climate scientists; however, their work in conservation and parks and recreation is quite relevant to this topic. Their


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firsthand observations and insights into climate change conditions in diverse communities offer greater context to the climate change conversation and the overall impact on marginalized neighborhoods.

Disparities in Disaster Recovery


In Texas, communities of color and underserved communities endured the brunt of the snowstorms’ wrath in February 2021, due to aging infrastructure and a shortage of essential resources in those areas. For example, The New York Times reported that Houston communities like Acres Homes, a northwest neighborhood comprising mostly Black and Latino residents, were among the first to lose power.

According to the Times, “[r]esearch has also shown that in Houston and elsewhere, lower-income, minority communities tend to live closer to industrial sites and be more exposed to pollution, a concern as the freezing weather shut down large refineries and other industrial sites. Large industrial complexes tend to release bursts of pollutants into the air when they shut down and again when they restart” ( “Underserved communities are less likely or able to prepare and recover from issues that are related to natural disasters…,” says Sara Hensley, city manager for City of Denton, Texas. Prior to her tenure at the agency, Hensley served in park and recreation positions in


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San Jose, California; Phoenix; Virginia Beach, Virginia; and Austin, Texas. In October 2018, she was working in Austin when severe rainstorms struck Central Texas, causing rivers to overflow, neighborhoods to flood, and residents to flee their homes as water levels rose. Hensley says the hardest hit areas were rental properties where many immigrants and people of color resided. She adds that none of those tenants who were forced to evacuate had renter’s insurance nor did they “have the means to find [housing] alternatives.” The fact that low-income communities were already at a disadvantage due to underinvestment creates an even greater barrier to

recovery following a climate event or even, more recently, a global health crisis like the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Hensley says food deserts occur in these communities because there aren’t enough accessible food sources, like grocery stores, to serve the population. Therefore, when a natural disaster strikes, those living in such areas struggle to find emergency supplies and food staples to tide them over until aid arrives. For example, USA Today reported that the Austin Justice Coalition assisted more than 40 Austin families affected by the February 2021 snowstorms by delivering food. The coalition’s director of housing and community development, João Paulo Connolly, told the news outlet that approximately 90 percent of those served were from Black and Latino/Hispanic communities (

The Environment and Health According to the U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP): “The health and wellbeing of Americans are already affected by climate change, with the adverse health consequences projected to worsen with additional climate change. Climate change affects human health by altering exposures to heat waves, floods, droughts, and other extreme events; vector-, food- and waterborne infectious diseases; changes in the quality and safety of air, food, and water; and stresses to mental health and well-being” (tinyurl. com/2p8zvfuk). The frequency and severity of calamities, such as wildfires, floods, heavy rainfall and storm surge, also can dramatically impact public health. “These events can ex-

acerbate underlying medical conditions, increase stress, and lead to adverse mental health effects,” according to USGCRP. “Climate change is thought to be…this great multiplier. There are a number of impacts to communities of color, especially in urban areas,” says Dr. Na’Taki Osborne Jelks, assistant professor of environmental and health sciences at Spelman College in Atlanta. “Take Atlanta as an example, when we look at the climate projections and look at the projected hazards over the next several years up to the year 2050, we see things like increased heat [and] precipitation. Those are two things that impact a place like Atlanta quite a bit.” It’s no wonder why the city earns the nickname “Hotlanta.” Given those projections, Dr. Osborne Jelks stresses the seriousness of the urban heat island effect, an occurrence whereby temperatures in urbanized environments (or built environments) measure relatively hotter than rural environments. “For instance, in one of the projects that I’m currently helping to co-lead is a project, called UrbanHeatATL (, which is focused on mapping urban heat islands across the Atlanta area and understanding which communities are hotter than others. We’re looking at whether or not [there’s] green infrastructure in place. Do we have trees? Are there parks, open spaces and green spaces in these communities to help mitigate extreme heat? Those are some of the ways that people are impacted,” she says. The public health implications due to unseasonably hot temperatures are immense. Dr. Osborne Jelks notes from a climate perspective, extreme heat is among the highest killers in the country. “That’s something that maybe a lot

of folks don’t know,” she says. According to a 2021 study published by Nature Communications (, in the United States, heat-related mortality accounts for approximately 1,500 deaths per year, which is more than other severe climate events. Heat exposure also poses health risks, such as heat cramps, heat stroke and heat exhaustion, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) (tinyurl. com/3wnd97y9).

“Climate change is thought to be…this great multiplier. There are a number of impacts to communities of color, especially in urban areas.” The study also reveals that people of color are at a higher exposure risk to urban heat island effects compared to non-Hispanic whites in 97 percent of major U.S. cities. What’s more, those most vulnerable to heat-related illnesses, according to Dr. Osborne Jelks, are people living on fixed incomes, who perhaps aren’t living in homes with air conditioning or are living in dwellings whereby the system is not working. Global warming also contributes to a lengthening of the pollen season, especially in cities like Atlanta. According to Dr. Osborne Jelks, this generally happens when we experience hot, or even mild, temperatures during the winter months — causing plants and trees to bloom earlier than usual. This impacts people who suffer from allergies and even asthma, she notes. “And with the warmer temperatures in areas that were traditionally a little bit cooler, we’re seeing a

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“While social vulnerability can pertain to a particular group — the initial vulnerability within that group is going to impact the collective at some point.” greater emergence of vector-borne or induced diseases,” she says. A prime example is West Nile virus. In addition to rising temperatures and more extreme weather (e.g., heat waves, hurricanes), rising sea level and increasing carbon dioxide levels also adversely affect human health (see infographic, p. 34). There’s also the issue of forced migration and the mental health implications, especially when natural disasters like wildfires and hurricanes displace people from their homes and communities, as was the case with more than a million residents from Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana following Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

The Level of Importance Research has shown the connection of climate change to racial and socioeconomic


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inequities. But where does the issue of global warming rank among people of color in the United States? According to a Yale study conducted in 2019 — which analyzed whites, African Americans and Hispanics/Latinos about their beliefs, attitudes and actions toward climate change — people of color are more concerned about the environment than their white counterparts (tinyurl. com/4vt5ww4w). Looking at the data, slightly less than 70 percent of Hispanics/ Latinos and 57 percent of African Americans are more likely to be “alarmed” or “concerned” about climate change compared to 49 percent of whites. Twenty-seven percent of whites are more likely to be “doubtful” or “dismissive,” followed by 11 percent of Hispanics/ Latinos and 12 percent of African Americans. A Pew Research Center study found that during the 2020 presidential election, the environment was an important issue for 75 percent of Hispanic/Latino voters and more than 70 percent of white voters who supported Joe Biden,

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while 54 percent of the Black electorate said the same (tinyurl. com/4waza92j).

Climate Change Is a Collective Issue Viniece Jennings, assistant professor of public health at Agnes Scott College in Decatur, Georgia, says when it comes to starting a conversation around climate change and race and what we can do to effect change, we all need to look at the bigger picture. “While social vulnerability can pertain to a particular group — the initial vulnerability within that group is going to impact the collective at some point,” she says. “So, when we do not apply a collective mindset to these issues, we can lose sight of the larger system we are all in.” She provides an example of a coastal area that is prone to hurricanes. When a major hurricane is coming toward that area, it doesn’t matter if you’re Black or white, you must evacuate. The problem is the people with the most resources can leave, while those who lack the means to evacuate ahead of the hurricane are at greater risk. “But

at the end of the day, the damage was along the whole coast. If you’re in a high-income or low-income neighborhood, your property was damaged,” Jennings explains. The challenge is to get everyone on the same page by recognizing that climate change is bigger than any one group or individual. Time is of the essence, and nobody has the luxury of saying: “It’s not my problem.” “When we reposition our thinking and remember that we’re all a part of a larger system, that can bring a progressive perspective to race and climate as well as other issues going on in society,” says Jennings.

Parks and Recreation’s Role What role should parks and recreation play in supporting climate resiliency and promoting environmental justice? Hensley says, “We can do a better job of working with our partners in city planning to build better sustainable development when it comes to housing in areas of the underserved population. And to me, that’s environmental justice — right planning in the right place at the right time.” Following are some suggestions for reducing your community’s carbon footprint: Create more shade. “Shade is a big deal,” says Hensley. Go onto Google Maps to view the areas most impacted by urban heat island effect from lack of trees. “Guess where they are? In the underserved areas and in areas where people of color are living.” Hensley recommends creating additional tree canopies through a tree planting program. Will it reverse the problem right now? No, however, it will help improve conditions for the future. Entice the butterflies. In Austin,

Hensley worked on a campaign focused on milkweed plantings in areas that would attract Monarch butterflies. “We planted milkweed along the Interstate 35 corridor and in other areas, so that the butterflies could stop by, re-invigorate and then head down to Mexico,” she says, “and just by increasing the amount of butterflies and putting in milkweed, [we] helped with our environment.” Establish food forests/edible gardens. To address the problem of food deserts in underinvested areas, take parkland or an area the city can purchase, and work with community members to plant food forests or edible gardens. This provides a place for people who don’t have access to a local grocery store to walk through and pick fresh produce off the vine, like grapes, tomatoes or other in-season fruits and vegetables. Develop partnerships. For example, Rio Salado is a river that runs from downtown Phoenix, through different communities of color, to Tempe, Arizona. Hensley says some years ago, City of Phoenix partnered with the state, late Senator John McCain, and several other entities and neighborhoods to clear old tires and trash that had polluted the waterway. Working with park staff and partners, the city helped to transform Rio Salado from a deserted trash heap to a beautiful, thriving natural habitat featuring returning wildlife and welcoming trails. “So, you take areas that are not well kept from an environmental standpoint — and particularly those in an area of underserved populations — you work with the community and others to create a more viable, natural habitat, which then helps our air quality. And, it helps with our water

quality through a natural filtration system,” contends Hensley. Be a climate ambassador. City of Austin established its Community Climate Ambassador Program, which engages diverse community members who have been systematically excluded from the climate change discussion. According to Hensley, community members really took it upon themselves to work on a plan that focused on reducing greenhouse gas emissions, grounding climate action in racial equity and building sustainable buildings. When it comes to environmental justice and what park and recreation professionals need to focus on, Jennings stresses that “it’s important to balance the scales between urban development and green communities where diverse people can remain and thrive.” What’s more, she contends that “inclusive leadership at multiple levels of parks and recreation plays an important role in the pursuit of health equity.” Vitisia Paynich is Executive Editor and Director of Print and Online Content at NRPA (

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Earth Day Learn how park and recreation professionals and partners across the country are bringing Earth Day events to their communities By Ayanna Williams, MSW


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hen I was the director of community building at Park Pride, where I was tasked with managing community engagement in City of Atlanta parks, April seemed like the busiest month of the year. There were events with corporate and nonprofit partners, requests for volunteer days for 50 to 500 volunteers, and invitations to speak with students and employees. A lot has changed in the past two years due to global events, such as the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and increasing weather events caused by climate change, which has led to new challenges and opportunities.

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This year, April 22 marks the 52nd anniversary of Earth Day. According to the history shared on EARTHDAY.ORG (tinyurl. com/mpuvsnj9), “Earth Day 1970 achieved a rare political alignment, enlisting support from Republicans and Democrats, rich and poor, urban dwellers and farmers, business and labor leaders. By the end of 1970, the first Earth Day led to the creation of the United States Environmental Protection Agency [EPA] and the passage of other first-of-theirkind environmental laws, including the National Environmental Education Act, the Occupational Safety and Health Act, and the Clean Air Act.” These and other government agencies and environmentally-focused laws

impact how parks are managed and maintained in 2022. “Today, Earth Day is widely recognized as the largest secular observance in the world, marked by more than a billion people every year as a day of action to change human behavior and create global, national and local policy changes,” states EARTHDAY.ORG. To find out what current opportunities and challenges professionals face when planning Earth Day celebrations, volunteer and educational events, I spoke with Revonda Cosby, executive director for the Arabia Mountain National Heritage Area Alliance in Georgia. I also had a conversation with Dr. Rasheeda Hawk, a clinical researcher and adjunct professor at Los Angeles Community College. Additionally, I visited with Ben Nemenoff, director of development, and Caroline Norris, director of sales and events, at Shelby Farms Park in Memphis, Tennessee. Across the board, they shared that already over-extended staff was a challenge, but public-private partnerships, citizen science and use of technology to amplify their message were opportunities.

Arabia Mountain National Heritage Area Many are approaching Earth Day with caution due to the continuing COVID-19 pandemic fluctuations and, often, staffing challenges. Few are planning large events as were typical in the past. Instead, many park and recreation agencies are leaning on partnerships with community nonprofits, government agencies and corporate sponsors. In the Arabia Mountain National Heritage Area, regularly scheduled volunteer days are meeting success with corporate groups 46

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looking to cultivate a spirit of stewardship at spaces like Davidson Arabia Mountain Nature Preserve. Instead of a traditional banquet or community celebration, like an Earth Day festival, many events are going virtual and are being spread out over the month of April. The alliance also is highlighting diverse stories, events and news via blogs and with the help of creative influencers. In previous years, Arabia Mountain National Heritage Area released a video for Earth Day highlighting the unique green spaces in this national heritage area and the power of parks. “Our connection to the earth is one of the things that makes us human. These forests, meadows, trails and mountains are waiting for you. Whether you’re hiking, biking, fishing, kayaking or discovering our natural history, the Arabia Mountain National Heritage Area provides us with beauty and peace year after year, no matter the state of the world,” states the video (tinyurl. com/mr3wb5f9).

Seeds of Carver Earth Day is a time to celebrate past success and create space for positive action. It can be powerful to reflect on the historical and present-day environmental wins in your community. Earth Day also is an opportunity to highlight unique solutions to persistent problems and roll out new programs that address historic environmental injustices. Seeds of Carver, a collective urban garden under the Los Angeles Community Garden Council, led by scientist and professor Dr. Hawk, engages young people in South Los Angeles in a project to restore the soil by planting sunflowers — a technical process called “bioremediation.” “The

goal of this program is to develop and mentor youth ‘community scientists’ who will apply bioremediation as a method to degrade toxins found in the soil in the local neighborhoods of South Los Angeles and Watts [a Los Angeles neighborhood],” states the website about Seeds of Carver ( “These areas known as ‘toxic hot spots’ within our neighborhoods have a higher level of heavy metals, PAH [polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons], and PCBs [polychlorinated biphenyls] at levels higher than the EPA recommended limits. We will use compost and droughtresistant plants from the Seeds of Carver Community Garden to dis-

tribute a consortium of microbes and plants known to degrade toxins found throughout South Los Angeles neighborhoods and playgrounds.” The Seeds of Carver program is an example of a place-based solution. Currently, the organization partners with a school, but the project could be duplicated in other public spaces, like urban parks. Dr. Hawk explains the project was born from attending a public meeting, during which residents were surveyed regarding pollution in their neighborhood. The survey found that residents from Watts were frustrated that many studies showed high levels of pollution, in particular lead toxin, but proposed no solutions. In

response to their concerns, she proposed planting sunflowers at homes and shared spaces, like schools and parks. Research had shown that these flowers and other plants can pull toxins from the soil. Dr. Hawk’s current research is exploring how drought might impact the flower work. Her work can serve as inspiration to others to look for unique, communitydriven initiatives that can be highlighted to encourage people to care for the planet.

Shelby Farms Park Litter cleanup, beautification projects and tree planting are classic Earth Day events. Volunteering with a group of strangers, cowork-

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ers, classmates, friends or even alone can connect you to nature in your park. Before 2020, there were often gatherings of thousands of people at Shelby Farms Park to celebrate and showcase local environmental organizations and governmental initiatives. In 2021, due to COVID-19, Shelby Farms Park pivoted to virtual showcases, outdoor events and volunteer days. “At 4,500 acres, Shelby Farms Park is one of the largest urban parks in the country. Located in Memphis, Tennessee, the Park is both a vibrant community hub and a retreat from the hustle and bustle of urban life. Public parks like Shelby Farms Park play an important role in creating a just and equitable community for all. Whether you play the Park on foot, on wheels, in the trees, in the open or on the water, Shelby Farms Park has something for everyone,” according to the Shelby Farms Park website (


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mry3faak). Staff at Shelby Farms Park carry the spirit of Earth Day through the month of April. One goal they have for the month is to attract corporate sponsors that contribute enough to cover the festivities and invest in the daily maintenance of the property. Here is a sample of Shelby Farms Park’s 2021 activities and events scheduled to celebrate Earth Day: • Want to learn more about the businesses and organizations that are helping Memphis have a greener future? Join Facebook for a virtual panel featuring local sustainability leaders today, April 22, at 5:30 p.m.! • Want to volunteer in honor of Earth Day? We could use helping hands to spread mulch this Saturday, April 24 at 8 a.m.! Thank you very “mulch” in advance! • Have you “herd” about our Porch Chats? Learn about the Park’s iconic buffalo herd from the Rangers that take care of them! Meet our Rangers on the AutoZone

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Front Porch at the First Horizon Foundation Visitor Center for an informal chat as they share info and fun facts about our herd this Sunday, April 25 at 11 a.m.! • Reduce - Reuse - Recycle – Help us give the bikes in our old rental fleet new lives! These used bikes have spent a lot of time on the trails, but they still have some life left in them! We’ll have 50+ bikes for sale, along with some accessories and parts. Proceeds from this bike sale will help offset the cost of our new rental fleet!

Crafting a Successful Earth Day On Earth Day, we can celebrate partnerships and programs ripe with success. We also can enjoy the parks and green spac-

es in our community and renew our commitment to finding solutions that build resilience. Earth Day is an opportunity to highlight sustainability, green infrastructure and climate-ready parks. Elevate the work that your team does all year by adding an Earth Day theme to your already scheduled April volunteer days, podcast episodes or community newsletters. Encourage elected officials and community decision-makers to visit a park on Earth Day. Invite your community to share photos of outdoor Earth Day fun in parks on social media. The way that your community celebrates Earth Day might change from year to year, but no matter how large or small, don’t let the occasion pass without some acknowledgement. Invite partners to

join you and share the load. Facilitate difficult conversations and explore how individuals or communities can act. Celebrate park and recreation professionals. Encourage stewardship by sharing educational videos and calls to action. Consider varying the timing and engagement methods of your programing to ensure you are welcoming diverse park users to participate, from children to older adults, schools to corporations, nonprofits to government partners and more. As you read this, the temperatures are likely already moving from warm to hot in the southern and western regions of the United States. Communities in these areas are likely bracing themselves for recordsetting summer heat, which also can mean drought, flooding and fire. While we must prepare for the reality of these events, I find hope in the regenerative nature of the

earth. As we clean up, plant trees and restore prairies and wetlands, there can be spaces to dream of a better tomorrow. People have come together throughout history to find solutions to difficult challenges. This Earth Day, there are many ways to celebrate. I encourage you to share on NRPA Connect how your community will celebrate Earth Day in 2022 by visiting tiny You also can send your pictures and stories to Justin Taylor, NRPA’s resilience specialist, at To hear Williams speak more about how parks and recreation is celebrating Earth Day, tune in to the April bonus episode of Open Space Radio at nrpa. org/April2022BonusEpisode. Ayanna Williams, MSW, is Director of Community and Environmental Resilience at NRPA (

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Parks & Recreation


OPERATIONS Considering All Lighting Strategies By Thomas Lovell Jr., MPA, CPRA


ighting of park and recreation areas is a multi-dimensional challenge, from patron safety to adjacent property lawsuits. Sustainability is one of the many considerations. The following is a snapshot of a process City of Lee’s Summit (Missouri) went through when developing lighting strategies for our outdoor park areas. (A similar process was used for indoor lighting needs.) 1. What specific uses are being addressed by using lighting? Keeping sports venues open, walking or running, cycling, parking, camping, navigating restrooms, lighting playgrounds and shelters, and crime prevention are examples of different uses with varying needs. 2. What footcandles and light quality are needed to address users’ needs? 3. Will there be an impact or problems with spillage of the footcandles and/or glare on adjacent properties or other park-usage areas? 4. What is the cost of installation, maintenance and utility consumption? 5. How many users and user hours will be generated from this addi-

tion? Will any revenues be generated to offset the costs of installation, maintenance, supervision and utility consumption? 6. Is it environmentally insensitive to native habitat needs? Does it create light pollution and add to energy depletion issues in your area? 7. Due to the lighting and corresponding increased use, will there be a need for supervisory/ security staff and/or surveillance equipment? If so, what will that initial and ongoing cost be? 8. What is your liability assessment? As you consider these decisions, you need to add one more option: Don’t light it! While many of our areas get lighting, not all areas need to be lighted. Lighting of park and recreation areas is a multi-dimensional challenge, from patron safety to adjacent property lawsuits.

For instance, in the case of walking trails, lighting will make areas more inviting, but it also can cause trails to become more dangerous by giving users a false sense of security. Lighting can create shadows for people with bad intentions to be invisible to park users. Most park and recreation professionals, park users and even the police often assume that lighting always will make areas safer. Police usually will tell you lighting is beneficial. For them and the user, it can be, but only when it is designed carefully and coupled with a police or other security presence to provide protection. Low-level lighting, like “security lighting,” can attract groups wanting to congregate and engage in illegal behaviors, like drugs, illegal alcohol use or worse, without fear of personal recognition. As you conduct your analysis, at least consider the no-lighting option. Foregoing lighting means no installation, no extra maintenance requirements or utility costs due to additional use; no light pollution or spillage into other areas; no energy consumption; and potentially no surveillance needs for protecting patrons. A good curfew and personal protection signage that includes safe places for the desired activity could save lives and tax dollars. Lastly, the savings from avoiding unnecessary lighting costs could provide the resources to develop and maintain additional unlighted parks. This article is a response to the article, “Portland Parks & Recreation’s Sustainable Park Pathway Lighting Efforts,” from the April 2021 issue of Parks & Recreation magazine. Thomas Lovell Jr., MPA, CPRA, is Administrator Emeritus at Lee’s Summit (Missouri) Parks and Recreation.


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(ISSN 0031-2215) is published monthly by the National Recreation and Park Association, 22377 Belmont Ridge Rd., Ashburn, VA 20148, a service organization supported by membership dues and voluntary contributions. Copyright ©2022 by the National Recreation and Park Association. Reproduction in whole or in part without permission is prohibited. Opinions expressed in signed articles are those of the writers and not necessarily those of NRPA. Issued to members at the annual subscription price of $30, included in dues. Subscription: $46 a year in the U.S.; $56 elsewhere. Single copy price: $7. Library rate: $58 a year in the U.S.; $68 elsewhere. Periodical postage paid at Ashburn, Virginia, and at additional mailing offices. Editorial and advertising offices at 22377 Belmont Ridge Rd., Ashburn, VA 20148. 703.858.0784. Postmaster, send address changes to Parks & Recreation, 22377 Belmont Ridge Rd., Ashburn, VA 20148.

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From Trash to Treasured Public Art When park and recreation professionals envision conservation efforts, resource protection and waste management, it’s not often they picture a 300-square-foot mural installation bursting with color and depicting wildlife. In Connecticut, City of Bristol’s Department of Parks, Recreation, Youth and Community Services (BPRYCS) is re-inventing what it means to recycle through a dynamic cross-department partnership to create a three-dimensional trash art mural. Addressing trash and material waste production in Bristol begins at the Transfer Station. Regardless of the item discarded, how it’s transported, or where it’s disposed of, it ends up at the Transfer Station to be sorted, compacted and sent to its final destination. Having visibly removed items from the Transfer Station in the past to be used for birdhouses and little libraries, BPRYCS recognizes the importance of visibly removing items from the local waste stream as a valuable way of reducing the perceived difficulty of recycling by the public. Buoyed by previous success, BPRYCS turned to the Transfer Station once more to turn waste management into art with the help of a local sculptor. Artist Stephanie Hongo, known as Sugarfox, creates intricate and detailed sculptures of animals from trash and recyclables. Starting out as an artist, Hongo had little money for materials and struggled with the amount of “waste in the world,” so naturally, trash sculpting, as she calls it, became her new medium. In 2020, BPRYCS commissioned Hongo to create a piece spanning more than 30 feet that used materials recovered directly from the city’s Transfer Station. Hongo presented a plan to install more than 20 sculptures, ranging in size from an eight-foot-long octopus to a 12-inch fish. With a plan in place, the BPRYCS team and Hongo went to the Transfer Station and collected items for the mural, including children’s toys, building materials, tubing, cookware, containers, rope and more. The myriad items were made from an array of materials, ranging from metal, rubber and wood to cardboard and plastic. Upon reclaiming hundreds of items from the Transfer Station, Hongo created a three-dimensional mural installation of 22 animals sculpted exclusively from re-purposed materials that can be interpreted across all ages and demographics. The mural is located at the entrance to the community pool, shining a light on the local waste stream and the incredible distance that waste can travel when improperly disposed of or produced in large quantities. One year following the installation and ribbon cutting of this public art piece, people can still see Hongo’s vision that gave a second life to thousands of discarded and forgotten items. In addition to beautifying the space, this project has educated and challenged the way the Bristol residents view recycling. – Erica Benoit is Community Engagement Coordinator at City of Bristol Parks, Recreation, Youth and Community Services 56

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Artist Stephanie Hongo, known as Sugarfox, creates intricate and detailed sculptures of animals from trash and recyclables.

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