Updated: 14 October 2018, Marc Woodard
Today’s cities compete for residents and business by offering state of the art recreation facilities services and programs, developed parks and greenway trail systems, safe walkways and open green space and for good reason. It is the tremendous economic, social, wellbeing and fit healthy benefits these recreational amenities bring to community. Once people relate to these benefits their more likely to value, support and demand these things of city leaders.
I’ve known for years, when children are involved in daily playtime activities and organized sport they grow up valuing and prioritizing these things. Then share those experiences and memories with their children. It is also well documented by medical professionals kids need structured playtime to physically and cognitively grow into happy and healthy productive adults. And when recreational access to healthy activities is limited in schools and city neighborhoods sedentary habits, drug addiction, teenage crime and abnormal behavioral problems increase.
A national health risk trend parents are also concerned about for good reason is childhood obesity. It is said by many health experts childhood obesity and health disparity has reached epidemic proportions. The Center for Disease and Control reports “obesity now affects 1 in 6 children and adolescents in the United States.” It is widely known obesity has a direct connection to diabetes, cardiovascular and neurological disease including cancer, etc.Communities that recognize these health and behavioral risk connections are calling for more structured recreational activities and nurturing places for children to attend outside of public school yards. Parents seek safe, structured and affordable afterschool programs to reduce these risks. Active adults are also drawn to city recreational amenities but for different reasons.
During the NRPA (National Recreation and Parks Association) 2015 conference, the US Surgeon General Dr. Murthy stated public community recreation centers must strive to provide fit healthy lifestyle programs and activities for all demographics. He also called to action to create a nation of walkers with connected wheel chair emphasis in design within a walkable community where everyone could participate in exercise activity.
He also described how public recreation centers now educate our children on healthy lifestyle, not our schools. City recreation is now the policy maker in partnership with city leaders, especially as health and recreational access disparity grows.
And when cities lack public recreation facilities families look elsewhere to find them and even relocate to meet long term child development and active adult needs.
Families with children aren’t the only demographic demanding more of city recreation services and programs. The boomer population being the largest demographic has the resources to make or break affordable and sustainable city services for communities.
Active adults [senior citizens] living without children want more public recreation programs. “But for different reasons then families with young children.”
As a fit healthy lifestyle consultant and passion for city recreation I’ve attended multiple National League of City Conferences (NLC) in Washington D.C., and National Recreation and Parks Association (NRPA) and Oregon Recreation and Parks Association (ORPA) conferences. It is very clear city recreation “saves lives [Dr. Murthy 2015]” and sustains economic, political and social culture and affordable city services – through civic outreach and engagement opportunities by city leaders.
Through community recreation, events and activities are the opportunities to engage the public to find out what city priorities and goals they’ll support. When cities use public recreation opportunities as a feedback mechanism – it is quickly determined what people need, want and will support within the city projects, planning and budget process.
I regress … Saving lives is a pretty clear concept from a recreators point of view.
That is – fit healthy activities for active adults …
And safe-supervised kid’s space and place to hang out with friends; and offer age appropriate playtime activities and social networking to make face-to-face connections – which supports: fit healthy habits, moral values, mentorship, coaching, community collaboration and involvement parents want for their children in becoming the next productive leaders of tomorrow.
But how does recreation save cities?
Consider the following insight.
There is a growing trend of adults who live very active lifestyles and want centralized city recreation programs within a reasonable distance from where they live. Which include multi-use indoor swimming pools, aerobics, yoga, exercise room, wellbeing and fitness classes, pickle ball, self-defense, arts, crafts and hobby and social events space etc., the list goes on.
Senior citizens also want to be referred to and categorized as active adults [forever ageless]. On average active adults spend $40,000 per year discretionary income. Studies show they spend a lot of this income on recreational activities [ORPA 2016]. And by far represent the largest volunteer population in cities that support libraries, police, schools and city recreation programs, parks and trail systems.
Cities need to find ways to retain and attract more of the active adult community because of their economic impact on cities. They represent the largest demographic with the greatest discretionary income holdings. Keeping active adults encouraged and interested to stay contributes significantly to the economic viability and affordability of city living.
The top 3 reasons people move away from a previous location: 1) A need to live in a more recreationally enriched area. 2) Get away from cold weather. When families and seniors live in cold environments they look for accessible and convenient indoor public use recreation facilities. 3) Live in an area with a plethora of public recreation programming opportunities for active adults and families. [ORPA 2016].
The best way to illustrate the financial impact active adults have on communities is by painting a relatable financial and sustainable city services picture. For example if 100 active-retired adults remain residents that retains $4m dollars of discretionary income spent within the city boundaries. Recall on average active adults spend $40,000 per year discretionary income.
Those dollars support economic development, small business and other sustainable city services connected to city fees & taxes, etc. Hence, dollars that stay in communities sustain a quality of affordable city services for everyone.
When cities provide for the recreational needs of a community, it creates a healthy place people want to live, work, play and age in place.
The big take away is when city leaders value, prioritize and invest in city recreation, everyone in community wins and those fit healthy benefits will sustain cities by incentivizing the next generation to age in place.