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Toward a Useful Teaching Strategy: City Park Partnerships

Last month the City Parks Alliance (CPA) held a pilot workshop in a concerted effort to develop a teaching strategy for helping park professionals learn and understand partnerships and collaboration.  More than twenty participants attended the day-long event held at Augustus Hawkins Natural Park in Los Angeles, supported by the S.D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation and hosted by the Los Angeles Parks Foundation.

(L t R): Jackie Carrera, Gordon Robertson, and Dale Larsen

(L to R): Jackie Carrera, Gordon Robertson, and Dale Larsen

I had the privilege of facilitating the discussion and was supported by City Parks Alliance staffers, Executive Director Catherine Nagel and Outreach & Program Manager Angie Horn, as well as a team of three experienced urban park professionals: Jackie Carrera, a recent transplant to Los Angeles after 21 years as CEO for Parks and People in Baltimore; Gordon Robertson, Director of Planning and Design for Denver Parks and Recreation; and Dale Larsen, Professor of Practice & Honors Faculty at Arizona State University and former Director of Parks & Recreation in Phoenix.  Collectively they represented more than 100 years of experience in city park partnerships!

We structured an agenda based on surveying park partners in California to find out what they wanted to learn.  Response to the survey centered on four ideas for shaping an agenda:

  • Understanding the need for partnership; why and how partners should work together
  • Getting started by scoping out responsibilities and structuring agreements
  • Working together day to day, communicating, team-building, and establishing trust
  • Building a culture of collaboration and shared vision for the long run

And so for the day-long session we shaped our workshop around these four areas.  The small size of the group meant that we could use our time for discussion, storytelling, and sharing successes and failures.  The experts in the room shared lessons and reflected on their experiences with public and private partners.  

We experimented with learning strategies, such as panels, small group discussions, storyboarding, case studies and facilitated Q&A sessions.  The workshop was well-received and since the group was small enough, we were able to delve a little deeper in our discussions about how and why things worked out the way they did as well as strategies for changing things that didn’t work well.  Above all, we talked about the “holy trinity” of fairness, transparency and inclusiveness – setting the right tone to be effective and accountable.

But we have much to learn in order to create a more complete learning experience.  We know that there are competencies around collaboration and engagement including good leadership, good process (group dynamic) skills, being strategic and creative, being inclusive, and being accountable.  Some people can do it naturally; others need help in breaking down the steps. That’s what we’re working to figure out at City Parks Alliance.

If the average American city works with private partners to perform 23 of 65 basic municipal services (according to Rick Norment of the National Council on Public Private Partnerships) then we know that P3s are changing the way cities work.  We in the urban parks field need to know what’s happening and how we can position parks to succeed in the midst of changing governance roles.

P3P3Our next workshops – one for getting started and one advanced discussion – will be held at City Parks Alliance’s Greater & Greener conference in April 2015 in San Francisco. They will again be offered in the spirit of teaching, sharing and learning from the speakers and participants.  Over the next year, it is City Parks Alliance’s goal to create an intellectual foundation for park partnerships that includes a framework for cataloguing their myriad types, an understanding of the skills needed to be effective partners, case studies around successful partnerships and, most importantly, effective teaching strategies.

I believe we’re up to the challenge with a terrific network of members and partners all around the United States and the world who are the creative force behind this new movement.  I welcome your ideas and your participation at Greater & Greener 2015 where we’ll be sharing lessons from Los Angeles and other cities during several conference sessions.
KBlahaKathy Blaha writes about parks and other urban green spaces, and the role of public-private partnerships in their development and management. When she’s not writing for the blog, she consults on advancing park projects and sustainable land use solutions.

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