I consider myself to be a connoisseur of urban parks. They are almost always the first places I am drawn to when visiting a new city or town. The quality of the recreation infrastructure in any town can be used as a barometer for its health and quality of life. There are a number of studies indicating that investing in parks provides a better rate of return and greater economic impact than sports stadiums and convention centers. For every $1 dollar invested in parks it creates $4 dollars of economic activity in return. People enjoy beautifully planned parks. Residents want to live by them, increasing property values and business services, and use them which produce better health outcomes. Unfortunately parks are often overlooked in urban areas. They do not have the same wow factor for politicians like a new stadium, nor do they provide the same opportunity for kick backs.
America is in the midst of a health crisis. Obesity, disease, addiction and depression have all increased in the recent years and little hope is on the horizon. There are multiple reasons for this, but certainly the lack of access to attractive recreational opportunities needs to be factored in. Culturally and politically, when it comes to recreation it seems to be an after thought and low priority. Providing high quality experiences for people to (re)create themselves should not be overlooked. When a park is done right, whether it is the Highline in NYC or Lithia Park in Ashland, Oregon, it has a profound affect on those who live nearby. A quality recreation experience awakens people and enhances the way they interact with their environment and community. It inspires walking and engaging in conversation, being physical, enjoying some solitude or reading; many of the things often missing in post-modern life. In the grand scheme, recreational infrastructure is inexpensive and provides a higher quality of life and excellent return on investment. Yet, it too often appears to be an afterthought or secondary with little attention paid to design and the user’s experience. Municipal parks, national parks, quality running and biking paths, hiking trails and sporting infrastructure should be easily accessible and inviting to all. These are the places we will better our mental and physical health.
America has a value system disorder. We live in a society where consumption comes first and well being second, often confusing the former with the latter. Waste, greed and corruption feel as if they are reaching historic proportions, and yet we casually accept them and journey on distracted by disinformation, atomized entertainment and always a want for more stuff, attention and prestige. Reconnecting with ourselves and (re)creating is also being corrupted by an increasing desire for attention, available to see on your news feed right now. Authentic experiences, unmolested by post-modern accouterments and culture are seemingly being designed out of life. As our metropolitan areas grow and tax dollars become scarcer we further risk losing recreation opportunities to the short term gain of hastily poorly designed development with little emphasis on quality of life that has become ubiquitous. Suburbia and its commercial areas have become shockingly ugly. If one has an appreciation for beauty it is difficult to not feel a sense of disgust. Commerce, cars and connectiveness (via the Web) lead modern design and our daily experience. Connecting with our thoughts, bodies and environment are essential to a healthy human experience and should be prioritized.
Take a hike!