Parks, Open Space, and Recreation


The development of community services such as open space, recreation, and cultural resources has become a necessary component of community development. Whether these facilities are government-owned, such as public parks and libraries, or private entities, such as YMCAs and private museums, they contribute to the quality of life and quality environment of a community and are essential to the continuity of a viable neighborhood.

Cultural resources include:

  • Art galleries
  • Historic sites
  • Libraries
  • Dance facilities
  • Museums
  • Theatres
  • Community centers
  • Other facilities for artistic and cultural purposes

These usually receive both public and private support.

Graphic depicting cultural resources

Passive recreational activities emphasize the open space aspect of park facilities and include activities such as:

  • Hiking
  • Walking
  • Birdwatching
  • Picnicking
Graphic depicting passive recreational activities

Active recreational activities are generally associated with group sports or play activities, and often require dedicated program areas such as:

  • Playgrounds
  • Ballfields
  • Community centers
  • Swimming pools
Graphic depicting active recreational activities

Demand and supply for both specific recreation and cultural facilities is a function of factors that include the size of the community, density of development, income, and demography. Wealthier communities have these services and facilities more often than poorer communities. Communities with a large percentage of children have greater needs for active recreational facilities than communities with many elderly or persons with disabilities, who may prefer passive recreation.

High-density communities with little private open space have a greater need for access to public parks and recreation areas than small towns with ample open spaces, or suburban areas where the homes have large yards. Higher-density communities also benefit more from the health benefits (e.g., mitigating urban heat island effects, improving air quality) of these public open spaces.

Important Considerations

  1. Are open space and recreational and cultural facilities within reasonable walking distance to the project area, or is adequate public transportation available from the project to these facilities?
  2. Will the proposed project cause any overloading of existing open space or recreational or cultural facilities?
  3. How does the project satisfy any special recreational/cultural needs of certain population groups, such as small children, the elderly, or people with disabilities?
  4. If the development is housing, does the site include space for informal play for children of all ages? Does the site provide passive recreation areas for adults and the elderly?

Analysis Techniques

Step 1

Review plans to determine if the site includes such facilities. Locate the proposed site on a local land use map and determine the distance to the available open space and recreation and cultural facilities.

Step 2

Refer to available Community Plans to identify open space, recreational, and cultural needs specific to communities. Community plans can often be found on county or city planning department websites. Obtain data on the age and income of proposed project residents or users to determine needs.

Step 3

Determine how many recreational areas are within walking distance and are appropriate for project residents/users, considering such factors as design and user fees. Determine if public transportation is available.

Step 4

Review plans for the project to determine whether the proposed project will have any adverse effects on existing facilities, such as making user access more difficult or impeding views to these facilities. Consult with facility operators or administrators to determine if the project will cause any of these facilities to become overloaded.

Mitigation Measures

If inadequate facilities exist within a reasonable distance of the proposed project, or if the project will overload existing facilities, explore appropriate mitigation measures.

Specific measures include:

  • Expanding existing facilities by developing more on-site facilities
  • Modifying the design to mitigate project impacts on open space and cultural resources in the vicinity (e.g., incorporate public open space into the site design of the proposed project to alleviate overloading of existing recreational and cultural resources)
  • Developing recreational resources for specific population groups, such as tot lots, playgrounds, and passive park areas
  • Working with local school administrators to arrange after-school use of school recreational facilities

Resources to Reference/Experts to Contact

  • Planner at local Parks and Recreation Department
  • Administrator of Social Services Agency
  • Administrator of Local Cultural Commission
  • Local chapter of The American Society of Landscape Architects
  • State Arts Office or Association
  • Administrators of Agencies such as YMCAs, YWCAs, Museums, Libraries, etc.
  • State Liaison Officer
  • State Historic Preservation Officer (SHPO)
  • National Park Service
  • Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Land Management