By Samantha Tuner
Muncie’s Park system is underfunded, underemployed, and impacted by various political factors. Funding is limited, and the political structures that overlook the maintenance of all 32 parks is constantly changing. The end result is that there have not been that many improvements made to the parks, even though change is wanted. “Parks and open spaces provide substantial benefits for individual and communities, yet public resources to create and operate these spaces are limited” (Urban Land Institute). This analysis of park systems open to the public further applies to Muncie, Indiana, where funding can be limited. Further when funds are limited, parks cannot provide safe, inclusive, and interactive spaces for the general public. Muncie’s Park system is not the only one underfunded currently, there have been many studies analyzing funding trends, and there is a clear pattern of stagnant or declining public investment in parks around the country (Pitas et al. 2018).
As noted during park board members and staff interviews, the Muncie parks budget is roughly 1.5 million for a year, to run and operate about 32 parks within the city. This is an operational budget that does not include a set a yearly program department budget and major upgrades within the parks. Moreover, this limited budget leads to fewer park programs and events that build stronger community bonds and strains the staff when they have to carefully spread-out park funds to make ends meet throughout the year. The current staff recognizes the issues and limitations of the current operational budget and are working diligently to create solutions to the budget problem. With coordination from the park board and the current mayor, Dan Ridenour, the park staff have created a new donation system where anyone can donate money towards park improvements. The creation of private funding through anonymous donations allows the residents of Muncie to contribute to their parks and provides the park staff with a more comprehensive budget that can be applied to maintenance and park programming.
The lack of funding from the park department is evident within Westside. With constant trash lining the outer areas of the picnic areas, public bathroom doors that do not close fully, a broken seesaw, and cracking basketball courts there are many areas of the built environment within Westside that need better maintenance. Yet, with the minimal budget currently available to the park department, they cannot hire more people to help maintain the parks. Likewise, people who visit these parks are not able to enjoy the park to its fullest because the built environment is slightly lacking. However, larger group gatherings still took place at Westside at the picnic areas. There were many birthday parties, a religious gathering, and even a workplace party all happening before the winter weather rolled into Muncie. Westside is built for people to use the picnic shelters for gatherings like this, but these events tend to happen once and a while. As noted within the survey analysis section, there seems to be a lack of large gatherings related to non-picnic areas. Westside has a baseball diamond, flying fields, and a basketball court for residents to engage in more physical recreation. But there was little to no use in all of the aforementioned areas throughout the fall, only the picnic areas were in use. Moreover, there is a clear need not being met within Westside. However, the park staff interviews indicated that there are plans in the works for Westside. Upgrades to the baseball diamond and the airplane fields are currently being analyzed and planned so that within the next five years there will be areas for younger generations to play sports and skateboard.
“Why do you care? It’s just a crappy little park.” – Lindsay Carlisle ShayParks and Rec Season 5 Episode 8
Why should we care about Westside and other Muncie parks then? The main reason is that these parks offer a safe space that anyone is allowed to go to and enjoy. Children can come and interact with others, building social skills and new relationships, and others are able to use this space to improve their physical and mental health. The park is surrounded by nature and this natural environment supports “healthy behaviors and responses” (Aspinall, Bell, and Thompson 2010). Westside has the White River Greenway Trail next to it, where the researchers have noted multiple people walking, biking, running, and fishing. Not only this, but the picnic areas and playground offer built environments to encourage people to interact with the natural environment. People came to Westside to eat lunch at the picnic shelters while listening to the flowing sounds of the nearby river, and many mothers came with their children to play. Without parks like Westside, the residents of Muncie would not have easy access to natural spaces and people considering to move to Muncie may not want to if there are no areas to recreate outdoors.
Aspinall, Peter, Simon Bell, and Catharine Ward Thompson. 2010. Innovative Approaches to Researching Landscape and Health. London and New York: Routledge.
Pitas, Nicholas, Austin Barrett, Andrew Mowen, and Kevin Roth. 2018. “The Great Recession’s Profound Impact on Parks and Recreation” Parks and Recreation. https://www.nrpa.org/parks-recreation-magazine/2018/februrary/the-great-recessions-profound-imapct-on-parks-and-recreation/.
Urban Land Institute. 2018. The Case for Open Space. Why the Real Estate Industry Should Invest in Parks and Open Spaces. Washington, DC: Urban Land Institute.