Park Leaders and COVID-19: Serving the Community in Challenging Times


City Parks Alliance

Jayne Miller, President & CEO of Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy:

All of our facilities, as well as city facilities, programs, events and playgrounds are closed. One of the key things is incredible coordination internally in the organization, to make sure that everyone is on the same message. Staff know what decisions are being made and are updated regularly throughout the day as regulation requirements change. We also are trying to not appear tone-deaf to the pandemic but also realize that there could be COVID message burnout from organizations all over.

We are seeing the same impact that San Francisco and New York are, which is the value of parks. Fortunately, we are in a city where people really value their parks. During this time, even when it really started hitting early on, a couple weeks ago, park usage was up. Social media, pictures and, people walking the parks and being in parks really had shot up significantly. And so, we are keeping all of our parks open for walking, running, bicycling, and really also ensuring that our messages are in alignment with whatever government regulations have also been put in place.

Just as New York and San Francisco, we’re using multiple outlets to reach the public: social media, email, blogs, and photos. We’re also, working with media. Media coverage is saying that the downtown is shutdown, but the parks are open. People really get that [parks] are essential. When the schools closed, we also shifted our messaging to help parents and suggested activities that were safe for them to do with their kids.

We’re also offering virtual environmental education to help with homeschooling for kids. We have a very strong environmental education program, so we’re creating videos and webinars for parents and families to use for homeschooling. We’re taking our horticulture and forestry staff and encouraging them also to develop videos and webinars.

We’re leveraging graphics and memes to communicate, and we’ve also created a FAQ. What we’re really trying to do is leverage multiple communications channels because people absorb information differently. We’re also being very careful to not say things have been canceled but to say that things have been postponed,and that things will be rescheduled. While we are also advocating safety and saying that people’s health and wellness and safety is the number one priority and how they use those green spaces and parks and trails is really important.

We’re also paying attention to what’s going on in Florida and California with beaches and parks being closed because of the heavy influx of college students, and we’re preparing ourselves in the event that locally they want to close parks. We’re going to push against that because, as we all know, park space is critical for our own physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing.

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