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Pennsylvania Steps Up for Urban Parks

While Pennsylvania’s hills and valleys are renowned for its forests and farms, its natural assets and beauties, and its rural character and charms, 84 percent of its citizens live in urban areas: the Commonwealth has 53 cities and 30 boroughs with populations greater than 10,000.

EVP_Brian Cohen

Emerald View Park (Photo credit: Brian Cohen)

Today’s workers have many choices about where they live, and they are actively choosing to settle in vibrant urban centers that support their needs. Many in the creative industries, knowledge workers, young people, families and retirees are all choosing urban areas that offer a strong economic base and amenities that add to their quality of life. It is increasingly clear that livable communities that can attract and retain highly skilled workers will be winners in the global economy.

One of the most important features of an attractive, vibrant urban area is an engaging park system. Supporting the economy, public health, environment, workforce development, and education, park and recreation services are also one of the most important factors contributing to the satisfaction and happiness of citizens in their communities—second only to faith-based institutions. 

However, while all of Pennsylvania’s urban parks can help contribute to the economic, social and health profile of each city, there is no program in place to foster this effort. Urban parks are greatly in need of repair, renewal, maintenance, and program support. The languid economy has resulted in cutbacks in budgets, services, and maintenance of city parks. While close-to-home recreation is more important than ever, cities are operating with fewer staff, less money, and higher demands. As a result, they are exploring program cutbacks, facility closures, decreasing maintenance, reducing hours, and fee increases. And while many parks and recreation facilities do exist, many are in poor shape and failing to keep pace with changing community needs.

To address these challenges, the Pennsylvania Urban Recreation Initiative (URI) sought the input of key stakeholders representing parks, recreation, health care, landscape architecture, universities, nutrition, elected and appointed officials, private non-profit organizations, land conservancies, trail groups, park friends groups, commercial business, national and state organizations, and cities of all sizes.

The URI’s recommendations led to the development of the Pennsylvania Urban Parks and Recreation Alliance to help urban areas increase the effectiveness of their own essential public services of parks, recreation and green connectivity that, in turn, stimulate economic growth, foster social stability and enhance environmental quality.

While the PA Urban Alliance is a new initiative, and is still developing its capacity, it is actively working on several fronts:

  1. Maintenance. The Alliance is working to develop a Pennsylvania Community Parks Maintenance Institute to help cities more efficiently invest the capital they have for the greatest impact in meeting the maintenance and sustainability of their facilities, infrastructure and resources.
  2. Funding Capacity. Through an association of environmental stakeholders, the Alliance tracks, advocates and shares information on federal and state legislation that affect funding for parks, recreation, conservation, trails and other community-related needs.
  3. Best Practices. The Urban Alliance is developing an online resource for best practices and resources for developing, managing and maintaining urban parks and recreation facilities. (It would welcome submissions sent to herd@prps.org!)
  4. Statewide Branding and Marketing. The “Good for You, Good for All” campaign began in July with the launch of GoodForPA.com and a related eToolkit for providers and partners—which consists of a statewide case statement, graphics, and other materials for local use. Promotions direct users to the website where they can gather information on the “goodness” of local parks and recreation while also exploring more than 5,600 local parks in an interactive statewide map.
  5. Planning. Pennsylvania has recently released its new five-year Statewide Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plan in which it has prioritized its resources to address five key priority areas: Health and Wellness, Local Parks and Recreation, Tourism and Economic Development, Resource Management and Stewardship, and Funding and Financial Stability.

The Pennsylvania Urban Parks and Recreation Alliance is a partnership of the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources and the Pennsylvania Recreation and Park Society.

For more information: www.prps.org

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