You had swings, monkey bars, and maybe a metal slide that got way too hot in the summer. That was your basic neighborhood park. Everyone knew where it was, no Facebook page or glossy pamphlets necessary. Public parks are different now, and so is the way they’re branding themselves.
Let’s say you want to try a belly-dancing class, or do a little Tai Chi. Forget joining a gym. And seriously, step away from that glowing screen already. Instead, go to the park. That’s the message park officials around the country are sending out to workaholics and tech addicts alike.
“Really just in general, everyone’s lives are so busy that our competition is mostly just with people’s schedules and the busyness of the day to day,” says Ryan Hegreness, marketing and enterprise development manager for Arlington Parks and Recreation in Texas. His job is to get people to the parks, the golf courses, the pools and rec centers in Arlington.
This past spring, his department launched a marketing campaign: “Unplug and Connect.”
“And the whole purpose of that marketing effort was to just encourage people to unplug from their devices, or unplug from work, and spend time connecting with their families, or connecting with a golf ball or softball, whatever it may be,” Hegreness says. Parks can’t count on tax revenue for support anymore, he says, cities and states are cutting funding. So parks are under a lot of pressure to generate their own revenue, just like any business.
Take the city rec center in Homewood, Alabama. For around $200 a year, a family gets access to the pool, fitness center, a track. And for an extra fee, there are amenities like karate, yoga and Zumba.
But parks have to be really careful here, says Setha Low, director of the Public Space Research Group in New York. She says branding and marketing could draw in more people.
“But branding could probably also be used to make some parks less diverse,” she says. Say, if the programs target only the upper-middle class. And less diversity, she says, goes against the most basic mission of parks, which is to serve everyone in a community.
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