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Joint use

What is it?

Among cities experiencing escalating land costs and with competing demands on urban space, joint use of facilities can be an important strategy for providing safe and suitable spaces for activity in low-income neighborhoods and communities of color, where parks and recreational facilities are often scarce, and for hosting important services and programs that do not have dedicated space in these communities. A joint use agreement, also known as a shared use agreement, supports a collaborative effort between two or more entities to share the use of facilities and land in order to increase community members’ access and opportunities for physical activity, recreation, and meeting space. Through joint use agreements, government agencies (such as cities, school districts, or parks and recreation departments), nonprofits, and private organizations can arrange to share both indoor and outdoor spaces. These spaces can include school athletic fields, park land, gymnasiums, pools, auditoriums, and playgrounds. When recreational facilities do exist in these areas they are often underfunded and understaffed, poorly maintained, and unsafe. People of color and low-income families are more likely to suffer the negative health impacts linked to lack of physical activity, including obesity and increased risks of heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, depression, and some cancers. By promoting safe and accessible recreation areas through joint use agreements, local leaders can begin to mitigate the compounding health and social inequities of residential segregation and neighborhood poverty for underserved communities. In concert with other policy interventions, shared use can be an effective strategy to build healthy communities where all residents can thrive regardless of race or income.

In addition to the PolicyLink resources listed on the right, see, the Prevention Institute, and ChangeLab Solutions for more resources on joint use agreements.

Who implements it?

  • Elected and appointed officials can champion the use of joint use agreements and remove regulatory barriers to their adoption.
  • Community residents and advocates can identify needs and opportunities for the use of existing facilities, and can support construction of new sites designed to be shared from the outset.
  • Businesses can share institutional space, including parking lots or open space on their office campuses for walking trails, fitness classes, or urban agriculture programs.
  • Community-based organizations may be on either side of joint use agreements — using public or school spaces or sharing their own facilities and resources with others. Uses may include sharing commissary-grade kitchens for healthy eating programs, gymnasiums for sports, and auditoriums or multipurpose rooms for various classes and events.

Key considerations

A successful joint use agreement brings together community stakeholders from across the spectrum to plan and participate in the agreement, enhance cost effectiveness, and expand access for underserved communities by maximizing the utility of spaces. Cities seeking to implement joint use agreements should consider a range of practical and logistical questions.

  • Focus on communities with the greatest need: City efforts should focus on joint use agreements that will benefit neighborhoods where facilities are absent or inadequate, prioritizing communities of color and other groups who face the greatest barriers to access.
  • Form of agreement: Joint use plans can be formal, legal agreements or informal arrangements. Formal agreements may be preferable as they provide clear expectations and protections for all parties involved.
  • Liability: In many instances, the existing liability insurance in effect for a given public or private institution is adequate to cover liability that could arise during shared use. Other liability concerns related to vandalism, wear and tear, and staffing should be addressed in joint use agreements.
  • Maintenance and operations: Joint use partners should agree on shared costs and responsibilities for maintaining, cleaning, and repairing facilities.
  • Potential regulatory barriers: Zoning restrictions or agency policies could impede the adoption of joint use agreements and may need to be revised.
  • Funding: In the case of expanding the use of existing facilities, joint use does present a significant expense. New joint use developments can distribute costs across a range of partners, and philanthropy can also provide funding to support joint use efforts.
  • Public safety: Community residents may avoid activities because of traffic- and crime-related safety concerns. Joint use agreements that include provisions for upgrading facilities (for example, with adequate outdoor lighting) can increase public safety by promoting constructive activity and reducing vandalism.

Where is it working?

Cities can leverage joint use arrangements to advance health equity and build healthy communities of opportunity in historically disinvested neighborhoods.

  • In Maricopa County, Arizona, six elementary school districts have joined with the Maricopa County Public Health Department and community and philanthropic partners to build healthier neighborhoods by opening school facilities for shared use when school is not in session. Beyond simply making playgrounds available in neighborhoods without public parks, this partnership, launched in January 2017, will use public school land and facilities to open a medical clinic two days a week in conjunction with a community hospital, build community gardens, open a farmers’ market, install new outdoor fitness equipment, offer nutritional and cooking classes, and make school library resources available to the public.
  • In Oakland, California, the Oakland Schoolyard Initiative (OSI) is a public-private partnership that brings together partners from the city, the school district, philanthropy, nonprofit organizations, and private businesses to renovate school playgrounds and fields, making modifications if needed, so that community-based sports organizations and other programs can use them after school hours, on weekends, and during school breaks. East Bay Asian Youth Center (EBAYC), a community based organization that works primarily with low-income students in high-needs communities, coordinates the initiative in partnership with Oakland Unified School District and the City of Oakland. EBAYC offers sports activities using a middle school’s outdoor field and gymnasium and shares various expenses with the school.