changelabsolutions.org 2 Complete Parks System: What Is It and Why Is It Important? What Is a Complete Parks System? Parks bring numerous health, social, economic, and environmental benefits to a community, and every person in every neighborhood should be able to enjoy these benefits. Unfortunately, too many cities and counties are “park poor,” lacking adequate parks and green spaces. Low-income communities often have the fewest (and worst-maintained) facilities. Many communities are now looking for ways to expand and improve their parks systems, while grappling with how to persuade decision makers that parks should be consistently funded and prioritized as essential infrastructure. The concept of a “complete parks system” is a lens through which to assess parks, green spaces, and open spaces in a community. It is also a tool to identify areas in need of improvement as well as policy levers that can facilitate those improvements. To maintain a fully utilized parks system that serves a community’s needs, it is necessary to take into account numerous factors, including how people travel to parks; equitable access to parks; how parks are designed; what types of activities and amenities are planned for parks; how and by whom parks are used; what types of plants and trees are planted in parks; how parks are maintained; and how parks are funded. This holistic approach looks beyond the traditional borders of a park, encompassing trees and other vegetation that exist along streets, paths, and other neighborhood areas. Wherever they are, trees and greenery can benefit a community and its residents. What Is a “Park”? Depending on context, the word “park” can mean many different things. While many people may think of a park as a large grassy space with a playground and fields, the term will evoke a vastly different image for others. The fact is that parks come in various shapes and sizes, from small parklets to large sports complexes. In addition, green spaces interwoven throughout a community, as well as undeveloped open spaces, offer many of the same physical, emotional, sociological, and community benefits as a traditional public park. This Playbook refers to “parks” in the broadest sense, meaning all manner of parks, green spaces, and open spaces. Some of the Playbook’s elements apply more distinctly to certain types of parks, but many of them are universally applicable. In assessing a community’s parks system, it is important to consider the entire range of possibilities for parks, green spaces, and open spaces.