Urban Parks as Partners in Youth Development

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Urban Parks as Partners in Youth Development

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  • 1. THE URBAN INSTITUTE THE WALLACE FOUNDATION Urban Parks as Partners in Youth Development Margery Austin Turner Urban parks have long played a vital role in The latest thinking about youth develop- community-based programs for young people. ment—contained in a landmark report by the Traditionally, they have been thought of National Academy Press—makes a powerful mainly as venues for play. Open spaces, play- case that children and adolescents are best grounds, sports fields, and recreational pro- served by a constellation of community-based grams make an important contribution to activities that help them build essential skills, children’s lives. But to realize their full poten- knowledge, and aptitudes.1 This new direction tial as community resources for youth devel- in public policy “places children and adoles- opment, parks can and should go beyond cents once again at the center of neighbor-To realize their full potential recreation. At their best, they can offer a wide hood and community life, where they canas community resources for variety of high-quality opportunities for chil- engage with caring adults inside and outsideyouth development, parks dren to build the skills and strengths they their families, develop a sense of security andcan and should go beyond need to lead full and rewarding lives. personal identity, and learn rules of behavior, expectations, values, morals, and skillsrecreation. Recent research provides important lessons needed to move into healthy and productive about how community-based programs can adulthood.”2 be structured to promote youth development most effectively. And the experiences of a The assets children and youth need for new generation of youth programs in urban healthy development fall into four major parks—including several funded by The Wal- domains: physical, intellectual, psychological lace Foundation’s Urban Parks Initiative— and emotional, and social (see box 1 for exam- illustrate how these lessons can be applied on ples of assets in each domain). Individuals do the ground. not necessarily need the entire range of assets to thrive. But the odds of success are better if one has assets in all four domains. Reaching Healthy and And community-based programs that are fun Productive Adulthood can help kids acquire assets in any of the four Requires a Range of Assets domains. For example, a wrestling program is Too often, we think of youth development not only fun but also can help kids lose weight programs as designed to solve problems, and get fit (domain 1). A debate league is not such as drug use or delinquency, or to target only fun but also can help kids develop critical young people “at risk” of these and other thinking and reasoning skills (domain 2). A problems because they come from vulnera- chess competition is not only fun but also can ble families or difficult neighborhoods. Con- help kids build a motivation for positive tinuing efforts to prevent problem behaviors achievement through mastering a difficult and help at-risk youth are clearly needed. But game (domain 3). Designing and planting a merely mitigating acute problems is not community garden are not only fun but also enough to produce well-functioning adoles- can stimulate in kids a commitment to civic cents and adults in today’s world. engagement (domain 4). 1
  • 2. BEYOND RECREATION A Broader View of Urban Parks Personal and Social Assets That Facilitate Positive Youth Development Domain 1: Physical development • Good health habits • Good health risk management skills Domain 2: Intellectual development • Knowledge of essential life skills • Knowledge of essential vocational skills • School success • Rational habits of mind—critical thinking and reasoning skills • In-depth knowledge of more than one culture • Good decisionmaking skills • Knowledge of skills needed to navigate through multiple cultural contexts Domain 3: Psychological and emotional development • Good mental health including positive self-regard • Good emotional self-regulation skills • Good coping skills • Good conflict resolution skills • Mastery motivation and positive achievement motivation • Confidence in one’s personal efficacy • “Planfulness”—planning for the future and future life events • Sense of personal autonomy/responsibility for self • Optimism coupled with realism • Coherent and positive personal and social identity • Prosocial and culturally sensitive values • Spirituality or a sense of a “larger” purpose in life • Strong moral character • A commitment to good use of time Domain 4: Social development • Connectedness—perceived good relationships and trust with parents, peers, and other adults • Sense of social place/integration—being connected and valued by larger social networks • Attachment to conventional institutions (school, church, nonschool youth programs) • Ability to navigate in multiple cultural contexts • Commitment to civic engagement From the National Research Council and Institute of Medicine, Community Programs to Promote Youth Development (Washington, DC: The National Academy Press, 2002), pages 6–7. Programs designed to reach children with How Parks Can Help Youth Acquire special needs or prevent risky behavior can Assets for Development certainly be useful. But to maximize effective- ness, their overall focus should be more inclu- Urban parks have always been vital in sive—promoting healthy development for providing youth with recreational opportuni- children generally. All children, for example, ties and enriching program initiatives. But a need health risk management skills, not only few are breaking new ground, with innova- those who live in drug-infested neighbor- tive programs for children and adolescents hoods. All children need conflict resolution that are in keeping with recent advances skills, not only those who number gang mem- in policy thinking. Three examples from bers among their peers. beneficiaries of The Wallace Foundation’s2
  • 3. A Broader View of Urban Parks BEYOND RECREATIONUrban Parks Initiative illustrate these new Building Creativity and a Sense ofdirections. Efficacy: Garfield Park’s “Empowering Youth” InitiativeBuilding Self-Esteem and HealthKnowledge: Central Park’s North Meadow The Garfield Park Conservatory Alliance isRecreation Center devoted to making Chicago’s Garfield Park, particularly renowned for the flower exhibits inCentral Park’s North Meadow recreation cen- its Conservatory, a place where members ofter coordinates with local schools and com- the surrounding community can enjoy andmunity groups to teach basic anatomy and benefit from the park more generally. One ofwellness principles along with interactive fit- its most innovative community-oriented pro-ness activities. All programs are designed to grams is its Empowering Youth initiative.enhance student health/science programs asthey relate to requirements for New York Cityand New York State curriculum frameworks. The core of this initiative is a Student Advisory Board. Each year, a new group of 15 fourth-The exterior of the Center has been preserved through seventh-graders designs a permanentto protect its landmark status. But the interior display for the Elizabeth Morse Genius Chil-has been remodeled to include a cushioned dren’s Garden. The students work as realexercise floor, high ceilings, and a community designers, exercising their brainpower and cre-room with computer stations. These comput- ativity in a team environment as they developers are part of the Center’s focus on fitness models, determine a budget, and collectivelyand general health, in addition to sports. Ani- decide on the year’s winning design. This pro-mated CD-ROM programs teach children gram not only provides intellectual content butbasic anatomy and wellness principles, with a also helps young people understand that theytalking skeleton chattering its way through can plan and work together, master chal-each lesson. lenges, and make a lasting contribution to their community, all key assets in the domain ofThe staff uses a variety of approaches to psychological and emotional development.encourage self-esteem among the studentswho take the Center’s courses. One instructormay teach basketball refereeing skills and This program exploits the park’s best asset—another may teach wall climbing on one of the public gardens of its Conservatory—totwo climbing walls (one inside, the other out- teach community children life skills. Otherside). Students learn how teamwork can solve parks could use their natural assets in similarproblems that no one can solve alone; and ways. A park with a good nature trail, for exam-how fitness, nutrition, and exercise can con- ple, could develop a program in which kids col-tribute to richer, fuller lives. lect their own nature specimens and plan and implement an exhibit displaying their findings.One way the center entices youth into its pro- Or a park well-endowed with trees couldgrams is through its invitational basketball establish a bird watching post. Equipped withtournaments. The Center hosts competitions camcorders, a youth program could help kidsfor teams (of girls as well as boys) in several track the birds they see and the sounds theyage groups between 9 and 18 years. Youth make—researching the birds they identify andmay initially be attracted to the recreation cen- compiling a video for display at a communityter for a basketball tournament. But once happening. Such programs offer young peo-there, they discover the broader opportunities ple an activity they enjoy while they also useto build their skills, self-confidence, and their research skills to learn about nature andknowledge of what it means to be fit and their planning and creative skills to show offhealthy. In other words, the Central Park pro- what they have learned.grams help young people gain critical assetsnot only in the physical development domain Building Leadership Skills:(good health habits and health risk manage- Prospect Park’s Youth Councilment skills), but also in the psychological andemotional development domain (positive self- The Prospect Park Alliance is devoted toregard, mastery motivation, and a sense of restoring and preserving Brooklyn’s Prospectpersonal autonomy). Park and making the park overall a safe and 3
  • 4. BEYOND RECREATION A Broader View of Urban Parks pleasant place for New Yorkers of all ages to First, the most effective programs do not try enjoy. The Youth Council was launched when to be all things to all young people. No single the Alliance realized that people under 21 program can or should try to serve all the were not represented, despite making up a children and adolescents in the community. large part of the park’s usership. Young people naturally have different inclina- tions and need different activities to build specific sets of strengths. And even among The Youth Council is a standing volunteer children with the same interests, how best group, whose composition changes annually to serve those interests changes with their as members graduate. Each year current age. Parks should design their youth initia- Council members contact youth groups tives around the unique assets and oppor- throughout Brooklyn, making presentations tunities their particular facilities offer. As and inviting new recruits for the Council. The discussed earlier, Central Park took advan- Council’s goals are to create opportunities for tage of its newly refurbished North Meadow teenagers to learn leadership skills, become recreation center to teach health and well- stewards of the park, and plan events and ness skills. And Garfield Park capitalized on its activities for other teens. Council members renowned Conservatory to offer young peo- plan and participate in teen events, leadership ple experience in exhibit design. Similarly, the training, park assessments and surveys, rou- San Francisco League of Urban Gardeners tine park maintenance, and visits to local politi- (SLUG) took advantage of some leftover cians and community groups. In addition, the herbs from the harvest at its Youth Farm—a Council renovated the Youth Resource Cen- large garden adjacent to a subsidized hous- ter (with assistance from Home Depot, the ing development—to teach young people home improvement company), creating a how to can and preserve fruits and vegeta- space exclusively for youth programming. bles, and potentially generate some income for the program. Each incoming group, ages 14 through 20, Second, high-quality youth programs are goes through a training program with four aimed at specific age groups to maximize their components: leadership/teamwork, under- effectiveness. As we know from our own standing the park, civic responsibility, and families, children’s interests, attention spans, safety/judgment. During the understanding- and capabilities change as they grow. A pro- the-park training sessions, for example, they gram that works well for 10- and 11-year-olds divide into groups and do a visioning exer- will bore most 16-year-olds. And a program cise—pretending they were the original park that can hold the attention of older teens is designers and creating mission statements of likely to frustrate and discourage younger who would use the park and why. For civic teens. responsibility, youth discuss their values and what defines them. Programs like this teach Parks are increasingly recognizing this impor- young people the value and rewards of ser- tant principle. SLUG, for example, now has vice to their community, along with leader- two separate programs for teens. The Youth ship, moderation, and self-reliance. Garden Intern program is for ages 11–14. In three sessions—spring, summer, and fall— young teens are taught such skills as bee- Quality Counts in Youth keeping, rose maintenance, and low-flow Development Programming watering systems. As they become profi- cient, they are promoted to help supervise To make a real difference, quality matters in or teach in the classes. The Urban Herbals park-based youth programs. Programs that program is for ages 18–24. These partici- mean well may nonetheless fail to engage and pants, in addition to preparing jams and strengthen young people if they are not effec- infused vinegars, are responsible for selling tively designed and administered. Recent their products. This involves traveling around experiences among innovative programs the city and making presentations at farmers’ launched by urban parks suggest several key markets, enterprise fairs, and so on—“learn- lessons to consider. ing how to look strangers in the eye and4
  • 5. A Broader View of Urban Parks BEYOND RECREATIONspeak authoritatively,” as the Urban Herbals people can be energetic, enthusiastic, gener-manager puts it.3 ous, and full of new ideas and perspectives. But first we have to overcome stereotypes about young people to benefit from what theyPortland, Oregon Parks and Recreation recog- have to offer.nizes the principle of age-specific program-ming in its Summer Nature Camp initiative.Forest Magic, for example, is for children age Prospect Park’s experience, again, is instruc-5–6. It helps young children learn about the tive. Its Youth Council has two explicit goals:forest, its inhabitants, and its hidden secrets 1) enhancing the lives of young people, butthrough legends, songs, nature games, and also 2) improving programming for children inhikes. Eco Explorer is for youth age 9–12. It the community. In order to do both well, parktakes participants to investigate the ecology authorities realized they should listen to youth.of forest, field, and stream with microscopes, As one Youth Program director put it: “Somesoil/water testing kits, and computer mapping. people don’t understand how to work with youth. You have to give them more meaningThere is more than one way to design age- than just telling them to stuff envelopes. Theytargeted initiatives. For some parks managers, want to be respected more than anything.it may make sense to develop an array of They want to be asked, not told.”related programs, each targeted at progres-sively older groups. Others may decide to In response to the input of the Park’s Youthstart more modestly, focusing exclusively on a Council, and with their planning help, Prospectsingle age group, and only expanding their Park has programmed a series of “Events forprograms as they gain experience. Teens.” This includes a Teen Summit with the Brooklyn Public Library and a teen-themed To make a real difference,Garfield Park’s array of programs provides an after-party for a park “Greenathon” fundraiser quality matters in park-basedexcellent example of age-graded offerings. walk. The youth gain a sense of confidence and youth programs.Pre-kindergarten through second-grade chil- the park gets a set of events that are powerfuldren, for example, have Butterflies, Bees, attractions. Youth Council members also con-and Beetles. Participants learn about color duct a community assessment and evaluationand light using kaleidoscope kits and plant through sample surveys. They find “placesmaterial to build their own naturescopes. where kids hang out and make presentationsThey also explore the world of photosynthe- on what they find.”4 This helps youngsterssis and learn how a leaf uses light. For grades learn that they can make their community bet-four through eight, there is Survival on a ter by working collectively, at the same timeTropical Isle, in which participants imagine that it helps parks keep control of their spaces.their airplane crashes in the Amazon Forest. Perhaps most striking, Youth Council membersThey learn map skills, find clues to help them travel to the New York State Congress eachsurvive in a tropical environment, and discuss year to help make the case for parks. Their tes-how people have adapted to life in tropical timony helps young people gain a sense ofregions. For grades nine through eleven mastery at the same time that it helps parksthere is the High School Docent program. get much-needed public support.Docents go through core training thatprovides team building, leadership develop- San Francisco’s Neighborhood Parks Councilment, and education in botany, public speak- (NPC) has also benefited from really listeninging, and career planning. Then they volunteer to youth. The germ of the idea came when thethroughout the year to help staff the Conser- NPC found that teens were misusing a parkvatory Alliance’s special programs. facility and began to ask why. In answering this question, they investigated teen program-Finally, the most successful programs for ming in their district and found there wasyouth recognize and value what young peo- almost none, particularly for older teens. Sople themselves can offer. Those who think of they went straight to the youth and askedyoung people merely as having problems, them what they wanted to see happen in theneeding services, or requiring instruction are facility they had been misusing. This simpleoverlooking an important resource. Young solicitation led to the idea and implementation 5
  • 6. BEYOND RECREATION A Broader View of Urban Parks of Park Sessions, a youth-organized, youth- removed to discourage the “wrong” people created young artist programming initiative open from using the park. to all youth living throughout San Francisco. TNL has since evolved into six groups of The first Park Sessions event featured a teens working on different issues. Notably, Visual Art Area where local youth showed one group is working in conjunction with their work, which was curated by their peers, national youth coalitions to amend the Higher as well as open mike performances by youth Education Act of 1965. The amendment bands, poets, and dance performers. Volun- would establish a scholarship program to teer chaperones and youth coordinators man- encourage and support students who have aged security, as well as the coat and bag contributed substantial public services. Thus check. Throughout the planning process far, TNL participants have attended national youth engaged in successful problem solv- meetings and met with congressional staff to ing. They decided to deal with graffiti, for encourage representatives to pass the example, by taping butcher paper to a wall amendment. outside. “At the end of the evening the paper was in bags and the building was clean.” 5 The community benefited from a popular and Conclusion well-attended event. The youth planners ben- efited by coming to understand the real- Community leaders concerned about local world problems involved in planning events youth development can look to urban parks for attended by older teens. All benefited from more than playgrounds and recreation. High- providing a forum for young artists. quality parks programs can be effective inThe most successful pro- building the assets young people need for healthy development:grams for youth recognize Teen Neighborhood Leaders (TNL) is the solu-and value what young peo- tion that Slavic Village, a Cleveland neighbor- • Physical development. Youth programsple themselves can offer. hood, came up with to address problems of that provide opportunities to run, play, mas- vandalism and harassment surrounding the ter athletic skills, and participate in team Village’s middle and high schools. The Slavic sports are essential. Parks can and should Village Development Corporation decided to play a central role in developing and deliv- invite students to a community meeting, ering these kinds of programs for youth. where young people readily acknowledged • Intellectual development. Nature trails/ that their peers might be causing problems. ecology, historical assets, and performance These students said they would like to have a major role in improving the situation and spaces for music and theater can all be decided to form a group for the purpose. As a used to help young people hone their first step, TNL drew up a list of what was knowledge of essential life skills, acquire important to them. critical thinking and reasoning skills, and improve their school performance. • Psychological and emotional develop- They agreed to make improving Barkwill ment. Many different kinds of park Park, a park frequented by teens and consid- programs can build psychological and ered one of the worst in the city, a top prior- emotional assets at the same time they ity. The teen group teamed up with the parks challenge young people physically or intel- department, their local councilman, the Slavic lectually. Working in teams to design and Village Development Corporation, and the implement youth-centered programming Barkwill Park Committee to create a “dream- can instill coping and conflict resolution scape” for this mostly concrete space. In skills. Helping with the long-term planning addition to designing and planning this proj- of a major annual event can build a com- ect, TNL raised funds of their own to help mitment to good use of time. pay for new playground equipment, orga- • Social development. Programs that chal- nized community park-cleanup days and, lenge young people to work in groups, notably, convinced the parks department to address the needs of others, and con- restore the basketball hoops that had been tribute to the well-being of their community 6
  • 7. A Broader View of Urban Parks BEYOND RECREATION all help build social development skills. Par- 2. Community Programs to Promote Youth Devel- ticipating in volunteer activities such as opment, page 3. park clean-up days, for example, can help 3. See http://www.pps.org/tcb/slug.htm. foster a commitment to civic engagement. 4. See http://www.pps.org/tcb/prospect_ park.htm.Communities need all the help they can get 5. See http://www.pps.org/tcb/park_sessions.htm.in providing a wide range of high-qualityopportunities for young people to help thembecome the nation’s next generation of About the Authorskilled, competent, and responsible adults.Urban parks can serve as important resources Margery Austin Turner is the director of thein these efforts. Urban Institute’s Metropolitan Housing and Communities Center and a nationally recog-Notes nized expert on urban policy and neighbor- hood issues. Much of her current work1. As described in National Research Council and Institute of Medicine, Community Programs to focuses on the Washington metropolitan area, Promote Youth Development (Washington, DC: investigating conditions and trends in neigh- The National Academy Press, 2002). borhoods across the region. The Wallace Foundation’s Urban Parks Initiative The Wallace Foundation’s Urban Parks Initiative was designed to improve the quantity and quality of urban parks for public use, particularly in low-income neighborhoods, and to broaden urban leaders’ understanding of the importance of parks to the health and vitality of cities. From 1990 through the initiative’s conclusion in 2003, Wallace supported 19 public/private partnerships in 17 cities for creating new parks in underserved neighborhoods, reforesting urban areas, restoring landscape, and bringing new activities to both neighborhood and metro- politan parks. Wallace’s initiative helped secure 350 acres of new parkland and 50 miles of greenway trails, restored 300 acres of existing parkland, and leveraged more than $150 million in public/private commitments. The Foundation also supported national and regional forums to share lessons on park development and their contribution to community revitalization. The Wallace Foundation commissioned the Urban Institute to evaluate the effectiveness of funded activities in parks in 11 cities. The Institute collected information on how parks improve- ment efforts may have induced changes in the numbers or types of people who used the parks. Researchers also examined the partnerships parks agencies formed with nonprofit organizations to undertake these improvements, as well as the ways in which they engaged citizens in their efforts. Parks Publications This brief is one of three short studies focused on a new and broader view of the roles parks can play in urban communities: “The Public Value of Urban Parks” and “Understanding Park Usership,” by Chris Walker; and “Urban Parks as Partners in Youth Development,” by Margery Austin Turner. Other publications stemming from the Urban Institute’s evaluation of the Wallace Urban Parks Initiative include Partnerships for Parks: Lessons from the Lila Wallace-Reader’s Digest Urban Parks Program, by Chris Walker; Public Use of Urban Parks: A Methods Manual for Park Managers and Community Leaders, by William Kornblum, Chris Hayes, and Ryan Allen; and Communities for Parks: A Framework for Building Engagement, by Chris Walker, Maria- Rosario Jackson, and Robin Redford. All these publications can be obtained from the Urban Institute’s online bookstore, http://www.uipress.org, or by calling 202-261-5687. 7
  • 8. The Urban Institute Nonprofit Org. 2100 M Street, NW U.S. Postage Washington, DC 20037 PAID Permit No. 8098 Ridgely, MDThe Urban Institute2100 M Street NW The Urban InstituteWashington, DC 20037 The Urban Institute is a nonprofit, nonpartisan policy research and educational organization established inPhone: 202-833-7200 Washington, D.C., in 1968. Its staff investigates the social, economic, and governance problems confrontingFax: 202-467-5775 the nation and evaluates the public and private means to alleviate them. The Institute disseminates itsE-mail: pubs@ui.urban.org research findings through publications, its web site, the media, seminars, and forums. Through work that ranges from broad conceptual studies to administrative and technical assistance, Institute researchers contribute to the stock of knowledge available to guide decisionmaking in the public interest.The Wallace FoundationTwo Park Avenue, 23rd Floor The Wallace FoundationNew York, NY 10016 The Wallace Foundation is an independent, national private foundation established by DeWitt and Lila Acheson Wallace, the founders of The Reader’s Digest Association. Its mission is to enable institutions toPhone: 212-251-9700 expand learning and enrichment opportunities for all people. It does this by supporting and sharing effectiveFax: 212-679-6990 ideas and practices.E-mail: info@wallacefoundation.org To achieve this mission, The Wallace Foundation has three objectives: —Strengthen education leadership to improve student achievement —Improve after-school learning opportunities —Expand participation in arts and culture For more information and research, please visit http://www.wallacefoundation.org.Copyright © 2004The views expressed are those of theauthors and do not necessarily reflectthose of the Urban Institute, its board,its sponsors, or other authors in theseries. Permission is granted for repro-duction of this document, with attributionto the Urban Institute.