For an industry that for decades has aimed to focus exclusively on the great outdoors and the simplicity of nature, technology innovation is making an industry-altering impact on local government parks and recreation. It is redefining how local governments interact with and connect to the public and is even impacting parks and facility offerings. If your department has been resistant to the idea of leveraging tech innovation, try not to think of it as a concession to the digital devices that have become your adversaries when it comes to resident timeshare. Think of it instead as an opportunity to reinvent your service offering and continue to make your parks and rec programming relevant to generations of Americans who will never remember a time before the Internet. Start your adoption of technology by familiarizing yourself with the latest advancements impacting municipal parks and rec, and consider where you may be able to adopt such tools.
The Wi-Fi Enabled Smart Park
While this may seem like it requires the biggest investment in materials and facility maintenance, smart parks and popping up all over the nation in municipalities of all sizes. The smart park allows digitally tethered residents (both adults and children) to remain connected to their critical applications while still benefitting from being outdoors by providing easily accessible Wi-Fi. In this way, it removes barriers for those who want and need to become more physically active but are afraid of feeling isolated without access to their messaging apps, streaming digital music services, and social media platforms. Not only do municipalities benefit from higher attendance by investing in smart parks, but connected visitors are also more likely to share and post photos, videos, and messages of their time at the park to social followers, which serves as free marketing and third-party validation and can further help to increase park attendance.
These unmanned aerial vehicles are operated using a ground-based controller and often include live video or still photography capabilities. Some parks and recreation departments are leveraging drone technology as part of their public safety strategies. These nimble aircraft can offer valuable eyes in the sky along remote park trails or could enable park operators to close trail sections that are unsafe without sending staff into potentially hazardous situations to monitor conditions.
Beacon counters are another safety technology helping to enable families to enjoy their park experience with less stress. Beacon counters are Bluetooth-enabled devices that tether to a smartphone. Parents can rent a wristband embedded with a beacon, tether it to their smartphone, and set a maximum radius for their child to roam and explore. If the child exceeds the maximum distance, a warning alert sounds, notifying the parent and child to reconnect.
Digital Kiosks and Mobile Apps
Some smart parks also offer on-site digital displays and mobile apps that promote park and facility features and allow people to easily register for upcoming events and activities while such offerings are top-of-mind. Such conveniences are both revenue generators and attendance boosters. Such park kiosks and apps can also serve as adolescent education tools and help younger generations learn to appreciate the history and evolution of their community. Consider interactive displays and apps that walk users through the history of your community, provide fun facts about local flora and fauna, and offer interactive games and quizzes that are all relevant to the park in which the user is located.
Phone Charging Benches
Any Wi-Fi-enabled park must allow people to keep their connection through the availability of charging stations. At a time when it feels like every café, coffee shop, and airport terminal is ramping up their availability of charging terminals, it should be no surprise that communities are adding charging stations and even solar-powered charging benches to their facilities. In some cases, this convenience may be a difference maker between a resident choosing to take their lunch break outside or continue to sit at their office desk, phone charged, while they eat their lunch and scroll through their social media accounts.
One of the greatest hurdles that parks and recreation departments face is their ability to connect with youth who are spending more time indoors and in front of a screen than ever before. Thanks to augmented reality technology and park exploration gamification opportunities, young people no longer need to choose between their devices and being outdoors. Mobile-based games such as Pokemon Go and other geocache and digital treasure-hunting applications encourage socialization and outdoor recreation by challenging young people to search for collectible digital tokens that they can find in their community through geolocation technology. By engaging young people in games that are a hybrid of technology and outdoor exploration, local government parks and recreation leaders can help engage the next generation of community leaders and demonstrate the importance that park facilities have in the community.
Citizen Request Management Applications
A technology solution that is enabling greater resident service and assists with park maintenance is the 311 and citizen request management application. Such tools allow the public to report observed maintenance needs from any connected device, eliminating the time-consuming and labor-intensive process of making a phone call or walking into a park office to request pothole repair, trail cleanup, or light replacement. The most advanced solutions allow community members to use a variety of convenient communication channels to report repairs, including phone calls, text messages, email, and even social media. The resident can take a geotagged photo and submit it with their request, further streamlining the repair process for public works and parks and recreation maintenance teams.
The traditional vision of parks and recreation is evolving as the needs and interests of residents evolve and change. Park purists who want to continue to offer an unspoiled natural experience may need to accept a compromise between tech and nature before isolating themselves from future generations that expect tech accessibility to be prolific. By adopting even a few small tech offerings in your parks and rec facilities, you open up the potential for greater facility adoption, revenue, and engagement with a wide range of generations.