In 1978, Jack Robinson was appointed Director of Dallas' Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR). His primary goal was to reinvent the Department's role by making it the "principal public advocate and service delivery vehicle for improving the quality of life in Dallas." In order to do this, he divided the department into three regions and appointed directors who shared his goal. Most importantly, he delegated enough authority to these regional directors so that they could make the changes they saw fit. Then, Director Robinson immediately focused on raising capital to support the changing department. This reinvention permitted the DPR to expand its services to meet the needs of previously underserved citizens and to introduce several new, innovative programs.
Of the services that the DPR expanded, the Adaptive Aquatics and the 24-hour recreation center are perhaps the most innovative. Initially, the Adaptive Aquatics program, a water-therapy program for the disabled, was conducted in one city pool. Because of this, the staff found they could only serve a small portion of the City's disabled residents. In order to bring the services to all citizens that required it, the DPR contacted the American Red Cross to help them initiate a citywide staff-training program so that now, the water-therapy service is available in every city pool.
The 24-hour recreation center was created to serve the 250,000 workers who work non-traditional shifts (graveyard and evening). The program promoted itself by conducting outreach to corporations and groups such as postal workers and air traffic controllers, and ultimately expanded the Department's reach to citizens that had never received its services. Among its many programs are dawn-to-dusk volleyball, midnight softball, lectures, concerts, and art shows.
The DPR's new services include the development of a major zoo, the creation of a downtown arts district, and the Hands Around the World Program. In the Hands Around the World Program, the children of Guadalajara, Mexico and the children of Dallas have a voice in the international community. The Program solicits drawings and paintings of daily life made by children in both countries and exchanges art between the two cities. The displayed pictures and accompanying history lessons stimulate the cultural awareness of all involved.
Director Robinson has also been innovative in acquiring support for the program. For instance, the program currently uses 1800 volunteers that the City prescreens and insures for liability. Each year, the park service provides citizens the opportunity to work off fines for misdemeanors. In 1986 they provided nearly 10,000 hours of work. For financial support, the department has established an endowment funded by community organizations and citizens, including the former First Lady, Lady Bird Johnson. So far, $3.5 million has been raised and earmarked for better park maintenance, new sculptures and fountains, horticultural displays, and free concerts.
The decentralization of the Department, its creative development, and its receptivity to new ideas are the underlying innovations that have reinvented the Department of Parks and Recreation in Dallas. In short, it is an innovation in management. Replication of this program would necessitate a similar top-down dedication to creative thinking and solutions from the program's leadership.