Racial and Ethnic Diversity and Inclusion Efforts of Public Park and Recreation Agencies


  • KangJae Jerry Lee North Carolina State University
  • Jonathan Casper
  • Myron Floyd




Public parks and recreation, race and ethnicity, marketing, escalator concept


People of color are less likely to use public parks and recreation programs compared to Whites. Communities of color tend to have less park areas, fewer recreation opportunities, or inferior quality of parks and recreation facilities. These disparities in public leisure service delivery run counter to the foundational philosophy of the field, which is an equal and fair distribution of social and health benefits to all citizens. How should public park and recreation agencies address these issues and make their services more equitable? To date, a relatively small number of studies have investigated what public recreation agencies are currently doing or can do to promote racial and ethnic diversity and inclusion within the organizations and user groups. 

The purpose of this study is to add to the existing literature on the marketing of public leisure service delivery in two ways. First, the study uses a qualitative research method to explore organizational efforts of public parks and recreation agencies focusing on racial and ethnic inclusion. Second, the collected information is analyzed using a usage market segmentation approach, the escalator concept, to better understand if the organizational efforts meet varying usage levels. 

A purposive sampling strategy recruited employees from eight agencies located in a large city or urban area with more racial and ethnic diversity than the U.S. national average. Those employees were directors, managers, or staff members primarily responsible for issues related to racial and ethnic inclusion. Semi-structured phone interviews were conducted during September and October of 2016. The participants were asked about their work responsibilities, as well as diversity and inclusion efforts of the agency. The collected data were analyzed with the five basic steps of qualitative data analysis method. 

The study identified 38 organizational efforts for promoting racial and ethnic diversity and inclusion within the agencies and user groups. Those 38 organizational efforts were categorized into six major themes: (1) Specific programs for people of color, (2) Communication, (3) Financial aid, (4) Youth programs, (5) Internal administrative efforts, and (6) Research. The identified six themes were further distinguished based on the usage levels. The findings show that a majority of the programs and efforts specific to people of color are focused on non-users and light users. Other efforts focused on retention for medium to heavy users. 

These findings suggested that the agencies might need to focus more on moving the existing user groups to higher usage levels so they would become repeat users. Thus, it is important that public park and recreation agencies segment their markets to increase program sustainability and make a long-term commitment to the existing programs or new strategic plans for promoting racial and ethnic inclusion. In any case, marketing and communication at all user levels to people of color is essential. 

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Author Biography

KangJae Jerry Lee, North Carolina State University

Assistant Professor 

Department of Parks, Receration & Tourism Management 





Special Issue: Marketing Leisure with Diverse Populations