Officials from the Phoenix Parks and Recreation Department outlined how they plan to spend $500,000 they received from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) which was passed by Congress in 2021.  

“Our mission is to build healthy communities through parks programs and partnerships and essentially have amenities throughout our park system and programs that the community can use,” said Cynthia Aguilar, Director of the Parks and Recreation Department. 

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With more than 41,000 acres of desert parks and mountain reserves totaling 186 parks, Phoenix has one of the largest park systems in the country.

“The Department will be using $500,000 in ARPA funding to develop a grant program for neighborhood organizations listed with the city of Phoenix neighborhood services department,” Aguilar said. 

She said the Parks and Recreation department will need to hire a temporary ARPA-funded position to develop and manage this program.

“We are working right now to ensure that this is a timeline we can meet in terms of making sure the funding to hire that position will be available to us,” Aguilar said.

Neighborhoods under qualified census tracts, that are low-income, can apply for funding to implement free park programs and community events. 

“This funding would just need to be utilized by the end of 2024,” Aguilar said. “Based on our current timeline, that should give neighborhoods 12-13 months to utilize that funding.” 

Phoenix parks grants

Phoenix parks officials said they will help neighborhoods set up local neighborhood associations to so they can apply for grant money.  

Betty Guardado (Dist. 5) said she wants as many people as eligible to take advantage of the program.  

“I know there’s a lot of people out there who want to help us with that activation, so I would ask that we include them but obviously making sure that they are within the community,” Guardado said. 

City officials said while there is a pool of funds for nonprofits to access, they will continue to look into providing funding. 

Dana Burns of the Permanent Voice Foundation said she had helped to organize a recent community event at Esteban Park in South Phoenix, out-of-pocket.  

“Investing in the community is investing and helping us to remember who we are, our culture, and how powerful we are as a people. You’ve activated our voices again,” Burns said. 

The department of Parks and Recreation say that parks help promote healthy lifestyles can be especially beneficial for women and children.   

“As a mom of two young kids I see how exciting this is for our families. I think it’s very exciting what this can actually become, it could actually become a pilot on how we get moms to go talk to moms into activating our parks and to making sure we have healthy spaces for our kids,” Guardado said. 

City documents said when these community spaces are activated, unwanted activity tends to go away. Many Phoenix parks have been challenged with illegal or negative behaviors such as, drug use, violent crimes, theft, trespassing, vandalized and damaged park property and equipment, excessive littering and debris, and misuse of park amenities.

Aguilar said that in efforts to address these challenges, the Parks and Recreation Department is working to activate park spaces to encourage positive behaviors and uses.

The grant application will open in June of this year and by October the Parks and Recreation Board will approve the awardees. By November, the grant awards will be dispersed. 

“When we discuss park activation, what we’re essentially talking about is anything that encourages the positive use of our parks,” Aguilar said.