By Robert S. Ogilvie, vice president for strategic engagement at ChangeLab Solutions
In neighborhoods and towns across the country, many kids are at a loss for safe places to play. Would-be gardeners in apartment buildings are looking for space to grow vegetables and fruit. Libraries have cut back their hours. Food service programs for the elderly and homebound are in need of kitchens.
In many of these very same towns, there are plenty of facilities that could easily meet these needs – but these spaces sit unused, because the owners don’t have the funds, staff, or liability insurance to keep them open to the public. In many cases, residents are actually paying for the facilities with their tax dollars but don’t have access.
One solution? In many parts of the country, communities are turning to joint use or shared use agreements, which allow public agencies and nonprofits to share the costs and responsibilities of expanding access to facilities like schoolyards, kitchens, libraries, gardens, and more.
- In California’s San Bernardino County, the staff of St. Mary’s Medical Center worked with the City of Adelanto and the Adelanto Elementary School District to adopt a joint use policy in 2012, smoothing the way for joint use agreements to support everything from child care programs and athletic competitions to libraries and media centers. The first tangible result of this effort was the construction of a publicly funded field on the property of the George Visual and Performing Arts Magnet School, which will be used by the school during the day and by the community in the evenings and on weekends. Considering that the city doesn’t even have a parks & recreation department, the development of this field was a momentous achievement.
- In Texas, the Library Development Division of the Texas State Library and Archives Commission published a handbook for planning joint use in schools and public libraries. With more and more people continuing their education well into adulthood, the guide points out, libraries provide critical opportunities for people at all stages of life – and combining school and public library resources and facilities can improve student achievement and residents’ quality of life while saving tax dollars at the same time.
- In Florida’s Pinellas County, the joint use of elementary school recreational facilities is a critical component of the St Petersburg Mayor’s Play ‘N Close to Home Initiative, as this map shows:
In Pinellas County, there are three dozen joint use agreements in place for access to outdoor school recreational facilities, another 36 for access to indoor facilities, and four agreements for access to school facilities for after care. To make sure public agencies are aware of the county’s commitment to joint use, the Pinellas County Comprehensive Plan has a chapter on “Public Schools as Neighborhood Focal Points and Community Innovators,” and there are master policies at the school board level with local governments and with the YMCA that guide the development of joint use agreements for individual school facilities.
In these communities and more, joint use policies are the key to a creative approach to maximizing access to public facilities, even in the face of severe fiscal limits. This is the essence of good government.
ChangeLab Solutions offers an array of tools to help make joint use a reality, including Playing Smart, a nuts-and-bolts toolkit to help school and community leaders craft and implement joint use agreements.
Robert Ogilvie serves as the Vice President for Strategic Engagement at ChangeLab Solutions. Over the past 20 years he has worked extensively in community development and planning to help improve low- and middle-income neighborhoods.
Prior to joining ChangeLab Solutions, he served as a faculty member in the Department of City and Regional Planning at the University of California at Berkeley; as a consultant to city and county governments, nonprofit organizations, and neighborhood activists; and as Director of Volunteers at the Partnership for the Homeless in New York City. He is the author of Voluntarism, Community Life, and the American Ethic (Indiana University Press, 2004), and co-author of Opening School Grounds to the Community After Hours: A Toolkit on Joint Use.
Robert is a member of the Editorial Board of Community Development: Journal of the Community Development Society and is a member of the American Planning Association, the American Public Health Association, the California Redevelopment Association, the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association, and the Urban Land Institute.
Robert holds a PhD in political science from Columbia University.