Milwaukee Recreation, a department of Milwaukee Public Schools, oversees 52 playfields (urban neighborhood parks) within the city of Milwaukee, most of which were constructed between 1920 and 1960. With no major upgrades during the last 50-80 years, time and use have taken their toll on the facilities. In 2015, Milwaukee Recreation completed a comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Facility Master Plan, in which 65 percent of these facilities were rated as fair or poor.
In 2016, Milwaukee Recreation developed an equity prioritization index to rank its outdoor recreation facilities according to a set of criteria encompassing neighborhood and population characteristics, as well as facility condition. The rating system for the playfields uses a set of criteria which included a combination of community and playfield characteristics. A total of eight quantifiable criteria identified below resulted in the creation of an equity prioritization index value for each playfield. This approach is meant to quantifiably evaluate each playfield and ensure investments are equitably targeted.
All Milwaukeeans, regardless of income level, ethnicity, gender, ability, or age, should have equal access to public parks. But disparities between park-rich and park-poor communities are not just a matter of acreage or amenities. They often represent significant social inequities. For example, living close to quality parks, recreational opportunities, and green space has been shown to lead to increased physical activity and positive health impacts, strengthen emotional bonds to nearby communities, encourage community engagement, increase economic opportunity, and lower crime rates.
The value of quality parks, particularly within underserved communities, cannot be understated. In many instances, these renovated playfields become whirring hubs of activity within the neighborhood, whether it is a young family using the new swing set, teenagers honing their skills on the basketball courts, or adults chatting before one of Milwaukee Recreation’s free boot camps.
By introducing well-maintained outdoor spaces across the city of Milwaukee, community members of all ages have a place they can call their own, and one that drives the physical, social, and economic health of the surrounding area.
The equity prioritization index had proven to be a valuable data driven approach to allocating capital resources of playfield redevelopment. The plan has driven the playfield work for the past six years and has been a simple, effective model that other communities have adapted as model for their plans.
From the initial stages, Milwaukee Recreation understood the importance of a data-driven approach in capital planning for a park system. The equity prioritization index was based off work done by the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board, which provided the model from which Milwaukee Recreation’s playfield renovation project was launched. The model was then adapted to fit the unique needs of Milwaukee and the Milwaukee Recreation playfield system. This equity-based strategy has led to the transformation of neighborhood spaces and improved the quality of life for residents in our underserved communities.