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Parks & Recreation spaces

More than canvasses for creative design

As we celebrate National Parks day in Canada and Park and Recreation month in the United States, we are reminded to reflect on the value and role our parks systems play in our communities and are  challenged to think about how we “design with community in mind” when planning these systems.

Our parks and recreation spaces are more than blank canvasses on which we exercise our desire for creative design. Instead, these spaces are purposeful strategies. Strategies to help society address some of society’s most challenging issues - childhood obesity, early childhood learning and development, family cohesion, crime reduction, protection of ecosystem services and, in many cases, economic diversification and resilience. With the society’s ever increasing realization of the benefits of parks and recreation spaces, and the approval of major policies such as the Framework for Recreation in Canada 2015: Pathways to Wellbeing, it is clear that our parks and recreation spaces are places to grow healthy individuals, communities and environments.

However, great parks and recreation systems don’t just happen and those that were once great won’t always remain that way. With changing populations, socio economic characteristics, economic development priorities and recreational trends, ensuring our park systems remain relevant and attractive, equitably distributed and accessible, leveraged to build social, economic, and environmental value and adequately funded are ongoing challenges. Urban park systems throughout North America continue to face capacity and resourcing pressures. Today, more than ever, it is essential that park managers’ limited resources are directed to initiatives that will yield the biggest benefits to their communities.

Park systems need to be purposefully planned, designed and managed. That direction begins with a strong strategic planning process.  Recognizing the opportunity for parks and recreation spaces to enhance the quality of life and stimulate economic development and importance of strategic parks and recreation master planning, we jumped at the opportunity to help the State of Massachusetts’ Department of Energy and Environmental Affairs develop and apply a GIS based Park Planning and Assessment Tool in state’s 26 Gateway Cities – home to nearly 1.8 million residents. 

Our goal was simple - create a world class park planning and assessment tool that:

  • Identifies park development and redevelopment priorities where they are most needed and where they can have the greatest benefit,
  • Enables state and local park planners to evaluate the contribution of different investment and development decisions, and
  • Support local and state investment decision making.

As our work with the state nears its end, we are proud of the tool we have created and the valuable contributions it will make to state wide and local park planning and investments. This has been an opportunity to work as a collaborative interdisciplinary team across North America (Jeff Sauser in Boston, Tim Shah in Victoria, and Devon Jenkins in Edmonton) and truly demonstrate to our clients how Stantec can design with community in mind.

Justin Ellis is a parks, recreation and tourism planner with over 11 years of experience leading interdisciplinary team across North America.

Open Hearth Park, Sydney, Nova Scotia

Today, more than ever, it is essential that park managers’ limited resources are directed to initiatives that will yield the biggest benefits to their communities.

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