Urban Recreation – A Whole New Game

Urban Rec Golf Canal

City parks and recreation along with economic development departments need to challenge developers and encourage new variations of traditional forms of recreation to fit into our downtowns.

Trends have shown that since the end of World War II, families initially left the central city to search for the “American Dream” in suburbia.  Families wishing to escape the inconveniences and high costs of city life were able to find more spacious living, while the wage earners commuted to support the household.  Some of the factors motivating the move from the city were the ease in which families could find opportunities for recreation and social life.  The backyard, the school’s extracurricular activities, the neighborhood parks, golf and tennis clubs – all of these are the rewards for an extra few hours of travel.

Current trends are much different.  Falling oil prices ease upward pressure on living costs, increasing disposable household income and increasing domestic consumer spending.  Single parent and multigenerational households are prevalent.  The US census reports from 2010 over a 30 year span, the senior age group 65 and over will be larger in size than any of the younger generations.

Cities are making resurgence.  This time, developers have created a more sophisticated lifestyle and mixed of uses to choose from.  Cultural centers, entertainment districts, public markets, waterfront developments, loft living, historic preservation and renovation, quick and convenient mass transportation are contributing factors to the return to city living.  Denver, Portland, Los Angeles and Dallas are experiencing rapid economic downtown growth.  Yet, something is being overlooked…

Is it possible to bring some of the better elements that comprised suburban living back to the city with these families?  Can the best of both worlds be captured in an urban setting?

With this in mind, urban recreation will become increasingly pertinent, as our newly minted, ‘energy and green living’ urban areas are forced to seek their diversions closer to home and leisure time increases.  At present, we spend more on leisure than on defense.  According to Richard Miller, principal researcher for the 2015 Leisure Market Research Handbook, the annual U.S. leisure market is assessed at $2.5 trillion. Fueled predominantly by baby boomer spending, significant growth in the leisure marketplace is expected for the foreseeable future. One analyst forecasts a new age of leisure will dawn when more than half of the nation’s GNP will be generated from the entertainment and leisure industries.

So here’s the dilemma – there is a close relationship between leisure and recreation, whether indoor or outdoor.  As leisure time increases, urban dwellers need new variations of outdoor recreation brought to their doorstep. They are already increasing the demands on existing facilities, such as the YMCA, private health facilities and club sports – so new types of many kinds will need to be accommodated and constructed.

For instance, let’s focus on one of the largest man made recreational landscapes – the golf course.  Golf is extremely popular and people wait as long as 3 to 4 hours to tee off on weekends.  Obviously, most cities feel that the land required for a golf course and the limited number of people that can enjoy the game at once, make this an activity that is not likely to be expanded within urban boundaries.  But therein, lays the challenge.

The National Golf Foundation promotes the sport as “a game for a lifetime’ – meaning that all ages can enjoy it.  The true slogan is really “a game for a lifetime if you live near large areas of available open land and you have time and money.”

Shouldn’t there be a way to extract the important elements of how golf is played, while eliminating other less important facets. Is it possible to maintain the same ambiance and dignity of the sport, but eliminate the walking and thereby reduce the land coverage? I’m not against walking, that’s not the point – it’s simply the need for so much valuable land and requisite maintenance costs that goes along with it. Without it, does this really detract from the essence of the game? I am not talking about a high end fenced driving range or electronic golf from the top of some office building.  Instead, a new and meaningful version of the game of golf played on 12 acres instead of 200, thereby creating a new urban recreational opportunity and reaching a greater segment of the population. For some recreational activities, this has already been accomplished.  Indoor tennis centers, running tracks, swim stadiums, mega athletic clubs and even professional football and soccer practice facilities have become are common features in cities.

By bringing recreational opportunities like golf within urban boundaries, two important results occur.  New urbanites will enjoy the some of the aspects they left from suburbia.  More importantly, lower and fixed income families, elderly, infirmed, disabled, disadvantaged youth and veterans will have a chance to experience newer versions of suburban recreation that are currently out of reach.

Posted by:  Rick Abelson, Founder – Online Land Planning, LLC

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