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1/7/2018 12:04:00 PM
South Bend parks now 'less relevant' for local youths, executive director says

Jeff Parrott, South Bend Tribune Staff Writer

SOUTH BEND — There was a time, perhaps decades ago, when kids spent long hours in parks, playing games of baseball, basketball or tag with friends.

That’s not happening much anymore, said Aaron Perri, executive director of the city’s Venues Parks and Arts department. Many of today’s youth are much more likely to be indoors playing video games, streaming movies and music over the internet, and scrolling through social media apps on their phones.

Perri says the parks must adapt to the times and work harder to attract users. Toward that end, the city’s Board of Public Works Tuesday will consider buying an “experiential recreational vehicle” to promote parks programs and bring new programming to underserved parts of the city.

“The parks have become a little less relevant,” Perri said. “We thought, let’s do something very creative … something very attractive, flashy and exciting that makes the parks relevant again.”

Parks systems are increasingly attempting such outreach, Perri said. As a rough example, he pointed to Baton Rouge, La.’s “BREC on the Geaux,” a traveling recreation program designed to combat obesity by sending colorful, 14-foot box trucks, loaded with physical activity equipment and programming, to the city’s poorest areas.

Perri envisions much more than that. Perhaps a hydraulic stage that unfolds at the push of button, with lights and music to encourage aerobic exercise.

“This is not just a box truck where a staff member pulls up and throws out some hula hoops,” Perri said. “It will unpack an experience. It will stay two to five hours, you’ll know it’s coming ahead of time, and every time it comes back it will be a different experience. When the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile pulls up, kids are taking selfies with it. It should be the same kind of experience.”

After soliciting proposals nationwide and interviewing people from three firms, Perri is recommending the board approve buying the vehicle from Spevco, a Winston-Salem, N.C.-based company that has made marketing vehicles and trailers for clients ranging from Disney and Coca-Cola to the U.S. Army and Navy — and has a contract with Kraft Foods to place its fleet of 12 Wienermobiles on new chassis.

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