Park and recreation planning typically occurs at three levels, 1) master planning at a parks system-wide level, 2) site planning for a park or recreation facility, 3) operational/maintenance planning. Plans may be completed in-house professional administrative, parks and recreation, or planning staff members. If a local government does not have in-house staffing expertise, the jurisdiction may contract the services of a private consulting firm. Depending on the complexity of a proposed plan, a master planning process may take one- to two-years to complete.
Public involvement is a fundamental part of the master planning process that should be documented and incorporated into all steps of the master planning process. Whether the planning effort is conducted in-house or by a consultant, stakeholders should be involved throughout the process.
If there is an existing parks and recreation board, it should be enlisted to advise and make recommendations to the governing body (e.g., town or city council). If there is no standing advisory board, an ad hoc or temporary committee should be appointed. The committee should be comprised of a diverse group of citizen volunteers that represent various community members and interests. In either case, a report on the basics of planning theory, suggests that a “professional planner, whether a hired consultant or public staff, should assist the leadership of the community in identifying common goals and policies.” It is important that consultants are responsive to community members’ needs and ideas. The American Planning Association (APA) has an in-depth guide for choosing a planning consultant.
Ideally, the jurisdiction should prepare a public engagement plan to identify who to involve, how to conduct outreach, and when public participation opportunities should occur throughout the planning process. A mix of high-touch engagement opportunities (e.g., workshops, open houses, charrettes, public hearings) and high-tech engagement strategies (e.g., online surveys, websites, and social media) should be considered to provide optimal public involvement in the planning process. All workshops, public hearings, meetings should be advertised and open to the public to uphold the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).
IPA’s publication, Healthy Communities: A Resource Guide for Delaware Municipalities, emphasizes the need to engage stakeholders and suggests a process, which may be modified to this four-step process for parks and recreation master planning:
- Step 1: Review Existing Conditions
- Step 2: Analyze Needs and Preferences
- Step 3: Develop Prioritized Plan
- Step 4: Adopt and Implement Plan