The average American home has 11 connected devices. To say that we are a hyperconnected society is, therefore, an understatement. As the ubiquity of technology has redefined our culture and how we seek news, information, and entertainment, our outdoor spaces have served as vital respites from the virtual world of engagement—that two dimensional, somewhat artificial realm of interactions. Our parks have remained genuine, tangible spaces where we can turn off notifications, break-free from constant connectivity, and just breathe.
Parks and recreation leaders have long served as the protectors of these pastoral moments, ensuring that citizens can always break away and break free from inbox notifications, likes, shares, tweets, and beeps and reground themselves in the physical, natural world. When COVID-19 threatened to take those moments away from us—mandating that we remain isolated indoors for our protection, parks and rec leaders answered the challenge by finding unprecedented ways to both keep parkgoers safe, and enable those unable to venture outside to remain connected to their community in the most meaningful ways possible.
COVID-19 challenged parks and rec leaders with more than a temporary disruption—more, even than a paradigm shift. It has been a veritable landslide that is redefining how institutions have operated for decades. Despite this seismic shift, our parks remain the sanctuaries we need them to be, and communities now have access to the necessary virtual activities, games, learning, and engagement opportunities that are keystones of what has been coined in our collective conscious as the new normal. All this—this protection of our natural resources and the adoption of technology to augment—not replace—in-person engagements have solely been made possible thanks to the innovative spirit and dedication of parks and rec leaders.
This July, as we safely celebrate Parks and Rec month from our socially distanced vantage points, we recognize you. The trailblazers. The preservers. The innovators, and the protectors. We honor those who are:
- Ensuring park equipment is sanitized and safe
- Adopting esports programs to engage generations of digital playmakers
- Enabling in-person summer camps and programs to ensure young people are not isolated or disengaged this summer
- Committed to equity and inclusion and building programming that is representative of the fabric of the community
- Supporting citizens, including seniors and underrepresented groups, using virtual programming
- Adding Wi-Fi to parks and playgrounds to help close the digital divide
- Identifying new revenue streams to support the long-term department sustainability
- Amplifying programs to support food-insecure adults, children, and seniors, particularly as senior centers, schools, and daycares were forced to suspend in-person services
- Creating virtual tours of parks, trails, historical sites, and facilities to engage new generations of residents and help the isolated experience something beyond their closed doors
For these and so many of the other selfless ways that parks and rec leaders have both preserved and innovated our community engagement experiences this year—a year marked by unprecedented challenges, we honor you, thank you, and appreciate you.