To plan for future parks and recreation needs, a jurisdiction needs to understand and assess the context of the planning area, environmental conditions, and existing conditions.
Research existing conditions and trends for population, socio-economic conditions, and other factors that may govern demand for parks and recreation facilities and programs. According to a Project for Public Spaces report, master plans contain the history of the park, the context surrounding its development, and describe the evolution of the park/park system over time. Background information should define the planning area, describe the planning process, and explain strategies for engaging and involving the public.
Conduct site inventories to obtain information on current environmental conditions. Information may be obtained from GIS mapping, site reconnaissance and visits to the area, or reviewing previous studies and historical information on a parks system. Information should be gathered on historical features and archeological research, soil conditions, vegetation, wetlands, topography, floodplains, riparian buffers, environmental issues, native flora and fauna, and endangered species.
Review permitted land uses to determine how the land, and adjacent property, is currently zoned and whether the intended use is permitted within the jurisdiction’s zoning code. If the land is not currently owned by the jurisdiction, the property should be researched to determine if there are any deed restrictions or easements that impose restrictions on the use of the land, regardless of the owner.
Conduct an inventory and analysis of current parks facilities and recreation programs. This information may be gathered during field visits to parks and recreation sites, focus group sessions, and interviews with municipal staff members, parks and recreation board members, other recreation providers, and stakeholders A narrative should be developed to describe facilities and programs in the recreation system, including programs and activities at each site, maintenance issues, preventive maintenance needs, and risk management issues. An inventory should be conducted of all public (e.g., school districts), non-profit (e.g., YMCA’s), and/or private recreation facilities and programs in the service area. A map should be prepared to identify where existing parks and recreation sites are located and distributed throughout at jurisdiction and where undeveloped land, with future recreation potential, is located.
Map data to determine both the existing and possible future locations of parks, open space and natural areas, and both passive and active recreation sites. Mapping should consider possible locations of “pocket parks,” defined as small outdoor spaces of less than ¼ of an acre in commercial, densely developed, or urbanized areas.
Address accessibility to ensure that parks and recreation facilities and programs provide equivalent opportunities and experiences for persons with disabilities. All local government park boards, departments, and facilities are covered by Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). It is important to identify any architectural, transportation, communication, or service barriers that may limit the use of parks and recreation facilities or programs by people of various abilities. Parks and recreation boards and departments should conduct an ADA self-evaluation and prepare a plan to remove barriers to program participation and use of facilities. ADA Standards and ABA Standards contain provisions for various types of recreation facilities. The U.S. Access Board has issued a series of guides on recreation facilities that further explain these requirements in the standards.