While visiting New York City for the first time last year, I could not help but notice how well used its parks were. I was particularly impressed with Madison Square Park which is home to Shake Shack, a well-known restaurant chain serving hamburgers, hot dogs, french fries, milkshakes and similar foods.As part of its efforts to revitalize the park, the nonprofit Madison Square Park Conservancy financed and built the zinc-clad, ivy-covered “green” building that houses the burger joint. Since it opened in 2004, Shake Shack has made the southern end of the park a very popular dining destination. It has also benefited the park tremendously because a portion of each purchase provides funding for park maintenance and programs.
Shake Shack at Madison Square Park is an example of a successful partnership for parks involving the public, nonprofit, and private sectors. It has become obvious that multiple sectors of society—government, businesses, nonprofits and philanthropies, the community, and the media—must collaborate to deal effectively with challenges. Specifically, I support “cross-sector collaboration” defined byUniversity of Minnesota professors Bryson, Crosby, and Stone as “the linking or sharing of information, resources, activities, and capabilities by organizations in two or more sectors to achieve jointly an outcome that could not be achieved by organizations in one sector separately.”
Facing severe budget constraints, a handful of park agencies have started to partner with private corporations and nonprofit organizations to fund park operations and projects. California State Parks, for example, has been seeking support from cities, counties, corporations, and nonprofit groups to sponsor or operate particular parks to help keep them open. Similarly, the City of Los Angeles Department of Recreation and Parks has increasingly relied on foundations and private companies to help pay for new facilities and services. In recent years, the Dodgers built new baseball diamonds at some city parks, Nike installed new soccer fields, and Kaiser Permanente paid for free swimming lessons for children and helped fund lifeguard training at city pools.
Not only are more park agencies actively pursuing outside assistance, some private corporations have also taken the initiative to get involved. Companies like Kraft Foods, MetLife, CVS and Dr Pepper/Snapple Group are contributing millions in charitable dollars to build neighborhood playgrounds for children. Playground projects offer companies the opportunities to boost their reputation, gain credibility, and involve employees in local community projects. For example, the New York Times reported that Dr Pepper/Snapple Group pledged $15 million to build or fix 2,000 playgrounds over the next three years, while MetLife Foundation has donated $850,000 in the last three years for 400 play spaces in the U.S.and Mexico. Kraft Foods even used its employees to help build 13 playgrounds in Chicago at a total cost of more than $1.4 million. Corporate-financed playgrounds, or play spaces typically bear a plaque with the sponsoring company’s name and receive positive local news coverage.
Chicago’s Millennium Park represents an unprecedented public-private partnership. The 24.5-acre park was once an industrial wasteland controlled by the Illinois Central Railroad. The idea of Millennium Park was first conceived in late 1997 with Mayor Richard M. Daley’s vision of transforming the area into a new public space for Chicago residents. Over time, with the commitment of the private sector, the generosity of the philanthropic community, and the involvement of world-renowned architect Frank Gehry, the project evolved into an ambitious undertaking that features a collection of well-known artists, architects, planners, landscape architects, and designers. Mayor Daley’s influence was critical in obtaining corporate and individual sponsors to pay for much of the park.
Another way to fund and implement park projects is through an adopt-a-park program. Established in 1982, Seattle’s Adopt-a-Park Program has been nationally recognized for the public-private partnerships it supports. The purpose of the program is to upgrade and improve park playground equipment and facilities using the resources of the city’s citizens and civic groups. The citizens develop pride of ownership in “their” park project while helping the city to provide safer and better equipped facilities with a limited amount of tax money being spent. Individuals, community organizations, businesses, schools, and youth groups have all participated in the program, which offers tools, materials, technical support and insurance to its volunteers.
Locally, the Los Angeles County Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR) has a similar program. In conjunction with the nonprofit Los Angeles County Parks Foundation, DPR works with private entities to sponsor existing parks, recreation or scholastic programs, and beautification or maintenance projects. Sponsorship is intended to augment, rather than supplant public funding. Parks and recreation agencies like DPR offer various potential opportunities, which commercial interests may find of value, including increased public awareness, image enhancement, product trial or sales opportunities, and hospitality opportunities. In return, businesses can offer support to park agencies through investments of money, media exposure, and in-kind services.
Faced with budget cuts, the Los Angeles Unified School District recently decided to turn to corporate sponsors to raise money. School district officials have made it clear that while a Nike athletic field or Dell computer lab would be fine, they would not allow cigarette or alcohol companies to market on campuses; they also would not allow soft drink companies to advertise because of the soda ban on all campuses. LAUSD analysis suggested that this proposal could raise $18 million a year – money that would be used to fund athletic programs and extracurricular activities that would otherwise be eliminated.
With limited public funding for parks and recreation programs, cross-sector collaboration has emerged as an effective way to provide much needed recreational services, especially in underserved communities. Partnerships can also help to revitalize declining parks as evident in the example of the Shake Shack at Madison Square Park. I sometimes wonder how our own Pershing Square can be rejuvenated. Perhaps an In-N-Out is part of the solution. It sure would be nice to have a Double-Double in the middle of Downtown L.A.
Shake Shack at Madison Square from Wikipedia.org – Shake Shack
Millennium Park and Pershing Square courtesy of Julie Yom