ASU expert discusses parks and rec challenges


Paul Atkinson

The website recently asked recreation experts from around the nation to talk about the challenges facing parks and recreation programs in the United States. Dale Larsen, a professor of practice with Arizona State University's School of Community Resources and Development, was one of 16 parks and recreation professors to participate.

As the former director of the City of Phoenix Parks and Recreation Department, Larson oversaw dozens of community programs and the upkeep of 189 Phoenix parks covering 33,000 acres.

Larsen points out that funding is a concern, as city recreation budgets have faced cuts in the range of 40 percent over the past decade. He notes that citizens still support paying for new parks with revenue supported bonds, but that cities lack the necessary funding to properly operate and maintain parks.

“The notion that ‘build it and they will come’ does not relate to public facilities,” Larsen tells

Larsen says one place that city leaders will look for funding – raising fees – isn’t sustainable or equitable when it comes to parks and rec programs.

“A case in point is public golf,” observes Larsen. “’Golf is at best flat,’ and mostly in decline in all parts of the nation. The idea that public parks and recreation programs can be self-sustained through increased fees discriminates against low income and underserved populations.”

The Q&A with professors accompanies a story ranking the top 100 cities for recreation. used two dozen metrics, including per capita spending on parks, the amount of land devoted to parks and weather. The top city? Cincinnati. Newark, New Jersey, took the last spot. Scottsdale was Arizona’s top ranked city, at 22.

Read the story and Dale Larsen’s Q&A