Description of Parks and Recreation Master Planning

Master planning is a planning technique that is used for a wide variety of projects. According to a report issued by the American Association for Leisure and Recreation, a community parks and recreation master plan is “a document that provides an inclusive framework for orderly and consistent planning; acquisition; development; and administration of the parks and recreation resources, programs, and facilities of the agency that sponsors the master plan.” According to Reiner Jaakson, the master planning process “identifies the recreation needs in the community, predicts future demand, and states policies for physical and social planning.” In essence, the purpose of a master plan is to develop a comprehensive vision for a park system, individual park, open space area, recreation facility, and/or programs in context of its location, natural resources, and visions of the community. This vision will serve as a framework for the long-term use and development of a park or facility.

Parks and recreation master planning is a comprehensive process that provides guidance and policy direction to local government decision makers. The planning process, which engages stakeholders and garners public input, provides a foundation for understanding and responding to the parks and recreation needs of a community. The process involves strategically examining a community’s vision; existing community services, facilities, and resources; and assessing future needs concerning parks, recreation, open space, and greenways.

Street view of bikers Pomeroy and Newark Rail Trail

Pomeroy and Newark Rail Trail
Credit: J McGinnis, Source: Trail Link

Master plans allow a local government to assess current and future recreational needs, evaluate feasible options, develop a strategic action plan, and budget for long-term or phased-in development and improvements. Master plans lay out an organizational framework for improving parks and recreation facilities, programs, and services to better serve the public. The master plan shapes the delivery of local government parks and recreation services, programs, and activities in a manner that is consistent with a local government’s comprehensive plan and policy agenda.

Parks and recreation master planning can also shape successful communities. A 2014 roundtable sponsored by the National Parks and Recreation Association (NRPA) and the American Planning Association (APA) recognized the role of parks in economic development and revitalization, planning for health outcomes, and contributing to green infrastructure solution. Preparing parks and recreation master plans can provide a foundation for economic development, building healthy communities, and to provide a unique sense of place. The roundtable advocates the creation of a new framework for intergovernmental collaboration to develop plans, exchange ideas, and share resources.


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