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2022 recreation trends and predictions for community rec professionals. 

Every year, the National Recreation and Parks Association (NRPA), shares a collection of observations and predictions on the top trends in parks and recreation for the upcoming year. In 2021, the top trends included healthy equity, climate change and virtual programs. In this year’s report, some of these trends return and new ones have emerged.

Read below for insights from NRPA’s Top Trends in Parks and Recreation for 2022 predictions and how they might affect your community centers.

Returning: Climate Change

In 2021, the concern of increasing temperatures across the U.S. affecting outdoor recreation brought the prediction of needing more parks and green space designed with resiliency in mind. Examples included protecting against flooding, producing shade and promoting environmental resiliency.

For 2022, increasing temperatures are still a concern. The NRPA report emphasizes the effects of climate change trapping extreme heat in dense urban areas. These are areas contain minimal heat-absorbing natural cover and have high percentages of impervious heat-collecting surfaces, which amplify extreme heat in the daytime and then radiate it in the night hours.

According to the Climate Central report, Hot Zones, Urban Heat Islands, New Orleans; Newark, New Jersey; New York City; Houston; San Francisco; Boston; Chicago; Miami; and Baltimore have the highest urban heat indexes. Once again, parks and green spaces are proving to be among the most effective tools to combat the effects of these urban heat islands, and it’s predicted the cities affected will continue to look for ways to combat these heat island effects.

Parks as Infrastructure

According to the NRPA report, the passage of the Great American Outdoors Act in 2020 that permanently funds the Land and Water Conservation Act at $900 million annually, and the passage of infrastructure funding in the INVEST in America Act, will create billions of dollars available for land acquisition, park and recreation planning and infrastructure maintenance, repair and development.

The prediction? Organizations that are prepared will be able to tap into funding for roads and bridges, climate change resiliency, renewable energy utilization, waste reduction and recycling, and even tree equity.

Macroeconomics of Parks and Recreation

The community recreation industry is no stranger to The Great Resignation, and that’s why this trend is expected to directly affect programming in 2022. Some factors of The Great Resignation include lack of affordable childcare, dissatisfaction with pay, unacceptable working conditions and a desire for greater purpose.

This lack of staffing is leaving organizations without needed part-time staff such as lifeguards and those who work in afterschool and childcare programs. The NRPA report points out having to compete with large corporations such as Starbucks and Amazon who can afford to pay their staff better salary and benefits than many parks and recreation agencies can provide.

The prediction? Despite the need and intentions of some agencies to expand out-of-school time programming, there could be more agencies getting out of beforeschool and afterschool programs, day care, and summer camps due to a lack of qualified and available workers.

Program Trends

In conjunction with a lack of staff for youth services, youth sports are also predicted to be affected. But it’s not only because lack of staff. According to The Aspen Institute’s Project Play State of Play 2021 report, before the restrictions imposed by the pandemic, participation in youth sports declined from 45% in 2008 to 38% in 2018. Most kids ages six to 12 playing a team sport quit by age 11, and since the pandemic, three in 10 kids who previously played say they are no longer interested in playing again.

This report is very alarming to the industry, but some organizations are trying new avenues of engagement as a response. One way is to host sports sampling programs. The NRPA report describes these as specifically designed programs held over a day or a weekend where sports trainers, players and leaders give kids an opportunity to try a variety of sports out for an hour or two and then move on to another sport.

Another avenue option is exploring non-traditional sports. Consider what is unique to your community and design programming around it. Examples include mountain biking, hiking, rock climbing, horseback riding, roller skating, disc golf, dancing, fencing, archery, dog sports, surfing, bowling, geocaching, pickleball, skateboarding and seasonal/holiday themed sports.

Last Predictions

Lastly, the NRPA report provided a few unique predictions for the parks and recreation industry in 2022.

Smart Dog Parks: According to the National Association of Realtors, 38% of people now travel with their dog, 68% say pet-friendly policies influenced their decision to buy or move, 43% believe their dog’s opinion matters on where they live, and 13% of people would consider moving if their dogs are not happy with where they live. The prediction is looking at enrichment activities for dogs like we do children. Dog parks will be planned by involving the entire community.

Glow in the Dark Plants: The NRPA report states A team of chemical engineers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology has made astonishing progress in producing light-emitting plants by inserting a solution containing light-storing and light-emitting nanoparticles into the spongy layer of leaves in several common plant species. While the research is ongoing, it could lead to landscaping trails and park pathways with chemiluminescent plants that would remain lit all night and reduce energy costs and lighting infrastructure.

More Plants: If you’ve been on the internet at all this year, more plants are definitely a trend. Community recreation can implement this trend too. Especially with mental health concerns on the rise and the proof that exposure to nature directly affects stress levels. The NRPA report specifically offers a suggestion to inner-city locations by considering green roofs as innovative parks. The prediction is parks will be everywhere humans can find a spot for peaceful relaxation.

Read NRPAs Top Trends in Parks and Recreation for 2022 report.

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Brittany Howard

Brittany is the editor of Community Rec Magazine. Reach her at brittany@peakemedia.com.

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