Local policy-makers' community priorities and perceived contributions of parks and recreation

Samantha L. Powers, Nicholas A. Pitas, Austin G. Barrett, Alan R. Graefe, Andrew J. Mowen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Parks and recreation provide extensive health, quality of life, and community ben-efits. Yet their ability to deliver quality services relies on funding and supportive policies—both of which are decided largely by local government officials, both elected and appointed (e.g., town/city manager, town/city council members, may-ors, etc.). Given their role as a decision-making stakeholder, it is important to understand local officials’ priorities and how well they feel parks and recreation contribute to these. This knowledge will allow for the development of management strategies to better position parks and recreation among officials. This national study (n=648) examined local officials’ community priorities relative to their perceptions of parks and recreations’ contributions. Officials from various types of local governments (e.g., town, city, county) were asked to indicate how important they believed a variety of priorities were in their communities and the extent to which they felt parks and recreation contributed to these. While officials deemed all community priorities to be important, attracting and retaining businesses, youth development, and quality of life were rated highest. Local officials perceived the greatest contributions from parks and recreation relative to quality of life, youth development, and health. Importance-performance analysis (IPA) with a mean quadrant approach suggested attracting and retaining businesses as an area to concentrate, youth development and quality of life as areas to keep up the good work, and growth management and social eq-uity/social justice as areas of low priority for officials. Gap score analysis revealed the largest deficiencies between importance and performance for attracting and retaining businesses, growth management, youth development, and social equity/ social justice. While IPA would suggest increasing efforts only in the concentrate here quadrant, gap analysis demonstrated the need to work to elevate perceptions of park and recreation’s performance for additional priorities. Agencies should work to improve actual performance while also more ef-fectively communicating their contributions. For example, to improve perceived performance, agencies should make the explicit connection between quality of life and business/professional location decisions. Additionally, agencies should work to elevate social justice as a priority among officials given its increasing attention in the field of parks and recreation. Addressing the issues that officials value most can help to elevate the status of parks and recreation as a less discretionary service, which in turn could help maintain and increase sources of funding at the local level.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)37-54
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of Park and Recreation Administration
Issue number3
StatePublished - Aug 9 2021
Externally publishedYes


  • Community priorities
  • Importance-performance analysis
  • Local officials
  • Parks and recreation
  • Policy-makers

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Nature and Landscape Conservation
  • Tourism, Leisure and Hospitality Management
  • Urban Studies
  • Social Sciences (miscellaneous)


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