Activating Parks & Open Spaces Through Programming Research Report


The Philadelphia Parks Alliance, with the support of the William Penn Foundation, has had the unique opportunity to undertake a broad scan of park and open space programs in Philadelphia and other U.S. cities. It has been an inspiring and exciting process during which we have examined hundreds of programs that are activating parks, trails and public spaces that have been unused or under-utilized; are effectively engaging and or integrating low-wealth communities and communities of color; and those that have a unique structure or approach.   We are excited to share our research report: Activating Parks & Open Spaces Through Programming. 

While Philadelphia has made tremendous strides in increasing the number and quality of its parks and public spaces, many still remain underutilized and have not yet met their full potential to be vibrant centers of community life. Philadelphia is fortunate to have a multitude and variety of exciting park and open space programs, but there remains a large segment of children and adults who live, work and visit Philadelphia who do not have access to high quality programming that meets their needs.

The profiles in this report are sketches rather than thorough case studies and are meant to motivate more in-depth study. Our selection process was informed by a park user survey in which we asked stakeholders about their programming preferences, and general impressions of public space programming availability and gaps in Philadelphia.

The Parks Alliance believes that each of the programs profiled in this report have much to teach about outdoor programming. Some of the most compelling local and national programs featured are not necessarily focused on park activation as an output; rather they address broader social and environmental goals that also result in short and long-term activation.   In some cases, the program structure or concept imparts more than the actual program activities and these program elements might well be adaptable in a number of contexts.

The Parks Alliance has found that while many cities in the United States have some remarkable programs, there is little broad based knowledge, on the national or local levels, of programming offered outside of one’s own community, interest group or professional network.  The purpose of the Parks Alliance’s research is to share what we’ve learned in order to raise awareness of current programming offerings, trends and best practices, and to inspire new strategic investment from public and private stakeholders in activating Philadelphia’s public spaces. We also hope that our findings will be useful to program operators, organizations and individuals outside of Philadelphia who have an interest in programming and open space.