2020 and 2021 have been defining years for parks and recreation systems throughout the world. On the one hand, restrictions on events and programming led to massive revenue losses for which the industry is still recovering. There’s also an expectation in most municipalities that parks and recreation systems will experience similar budget cuts to the ones they endured during the great recession of 2008. However, communities also leaned on parks and recreation centers for outdoor respite from the stresses of quarantine life. These assets served as the platform for people to share their voices, express creativity, and educate their youth as well.
As we head into 2022, the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic will still be present, yet a number of trends promise to push forward. The recreation center management experts at SFC are predicting developments in the following areas in the coming year.
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The Use of Technology in Parks and Recreation
Parks and recreation systems have already dipped their toes in technological innovations. Items that make cleaning more efficient such as robotic cleaning systems and sanitizing mist machines are prevalent. Expect parks and recreation systems to step up their online reservation and payment systems to ensure a contactless and cashless experience when paying for programs like camps and fitness classes, and events. Also, expect technology to enrich the guest experience. Augmented reality (AR) games, eSports areas, and exergames will show up in more recreation centers. In Mishawaka, IN (a suburb of South Bend, IN), the parks department partnered with the school district to create an AR walking tour of several local parks. Stations with a QR sign can be found throughout parks. Scanning the code opens an app that will show a tyrannosaurus rex roam the park.
Another great example of parks and rec assets utilizing technology can be found at Sand Mountain Park and Amphitheater in Albertville, AL (2 hours north of Birmingham, AL). The sports and recreation complex’s 55,000 plants are watered using a remote system that uses sensors to detect when sparklers in a particular zone need to be activated. This prevents aimless watering and provides a tremendous cost savings.
Converting Unused Spaces into Parks and Recreation Centers
As the realization of the importance of parks and rec assets grow, an unfortunate reality grows as well. The areas where these assets are needed the most, urban corridors, are often the hardest to spur development. Space is limited and highly sought after among commercial developers. To combat this and provide more access to recreation for inner-city residents, cities are repurposing areas such as railroad depots, malls, parking garages, and landfills, converting them to parks and recreation centers. One such example is coming to Staten Island, NY where one of the world’s largest landfills will soon be Freshkills Park. The 2,200-acre site will be three times larger than Central Park and will include a vast array of walking and bike paths, areas for kayak tours, and gathering spaces for social and cultural activities.
The Emergence of eSports
eSports is quickly permeating many aspects of our society from an entertainment and competitive standpoint. This is reflected in the move by recreation centers throughout the country to add eSports components to their facility. Aside from generating revenue through memberships and events, adding eSports allows recreation centers to develop programming that can attract older kids to their facilities.
A Greater Focus on Public Health
Over the course of 2020 it became clear that parks, by virtue of being the few places open during that time, are critical to mental and physical health. Countless organizations transitioned fitness classes to public parks to take advantage of open spaces. Expect this trend to continue, even with most of the country open again. And with a focus on the role of parks in public health, expect more partnerships with like-minded groups like hospital systems and non-profit wellness organizations. An article by the National Recreation and Parks Association highlights one such partnership between Glenview Park District in Illinois, and Glenview Hospital of Evanston Northwestern Healthcare Corporation (ENH). ENH operates a health and wellness center out of this space. ENH provides revenue to the park district by leasing space and provides rehabilitative services. The patients have priority access to rec center amenities. The hospital receives exposure to their core customer and is branded as the “exclusive health and wellness provider” for the district.
Creating Instagram-worthy Moments in Parks
It’s going to happen anyway; people are going to take tons of photos and post to Instagram whenever they are out and about. Parks now taking advantage of it by making it easier for guests. They are putting signs in specific areas of the park that are great for social media pictures. They are also promoting these areas by hiring photographers to take images and highlight them on their own feeds.
Ready to learn more about optimizing your recreation center for 2022? Contact us today at 727-474-3845.