Building recreation infrastructure such as trails, shared-use paths, and ball fields certainly promotes healthy activities. However, simply building them is not enough to persuade many community members to become involved in what is offered. Public engagement strategies help residents feel more connected to the community and make them more likely to use recreational facilities, parks, and walking paths.
In order to gain the most from these opportunities, it is best if community members are connected with the process from the beginning. When designing facilities to promote active lifestyles, including community members in the planning process is the best way to involve community members early in the process. Advisory parks and recreation boards, commissions, and/or committees can be formed to make recommendations to elected officials. Comprised of volunteer citizen advocates, parks and recreation board members play a key role in providing input on recreation programs and parks services that reflect diverse citizens’ needs and interests.
For examples of how to engage the public in the planning process visit the Public Engagement, CommunityViz®, The Charrette, Visual Preference Survey, and Crowdsourcing sections of the Complete Communities Website.
Parks and Recreation Programming
Communities can implement parks and recreation programming to foster ongoing engagement in physical activity among residents. Recreation programming entails promoting and hosting a series of events, specific activities, sports leagues, and other programs designed to get people to use infrastructure (e.g., trails, parks, playgrounds, athletic facilities, and open space) that is designed for active transportation and recreation.
When designing recreation programs for your town, it is important to consider the following:
- Creating a theme is often a creative and useful way to encourage children and adults to utilize recreation infrastructure. One statewide example is the “No Child Left Inside” program which includes tips and calendar ideas to encourage kids to enjoy the outdoors.
- Combine physical activity programming with comprehensive programming designed to reduce obesity. For example, Nemours promotes the 5-2-1-Almost None campaign to reduce obesity through nutritious eating and physical exercise.
- Provide a diverse array of programming, so that people of all fitness levels feel comfortable participating in offered activities.
- Use holidays and seasonal resources to promote physical activity through temporary activities like corn mazes.
- Consider providing children’s programs that combine education about wildlife, geology, fossils, and more with physical activity programming to keep kids engaged both physically and mentally.
- Offer family-oriented activities to help all family members practice good health behaviors with one another.
- Design recreation programming for people of all ages. While many people think recreation programming is primarily meant for children and teens, offering outdoor fitness classes, dance lessons, and special interest activities like photography can all help people of all ages feel more engaged in parks.
- Promote programs that encourage people to practice healthy behaviors in and out of the program by teaching participants about healthy habits that are easy to practice in the community like proper biking etiquette, maintaining a walking log, and taking the stairs.
Recreation programming helps community members use parks, trails, and other recreational facilities to become more active by fostering a sense of community and giving people confidence that they know how to practice healthy behaviors. For more information about designing recreational programming, visit the websites of nearby towns as well as the Recreation Programs section of Active Living Research by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. For more information about how to promote active living through recreational programming and other strategies, visit the Active Living Spark Page.
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