by Guichard Parris
Underwood, Jordan Associates,
Former Director of Public Relations, National Urban League, New York City
Leisure Time Needs of Our Future Urban Society
“Work”, said Oscar Wilde, “is the curse of the drinking classes.” That was almost a hundred years ago. Today leisure, with its kindred vices of boredom and frustrated aggression, may be the curse of all social classes.
Given a sufficiently prosperous and coordinated society, one in which the work week has already declined considerably, the answers to the life and death problems of the future have to include ways to fill up the extended week-ends of more advantaged workers, but may also have to develop constructive ways to constrain the frustration of the men and women who are unemployed, especially those living in the core of America’s cities.
The simple fact is that vast numbers of disadvantaged people are not satisfied with investing their leisure time in TV fantasies or James Bond type thrillers. What they want, since their daily routine already brings them into close proximity with danger, is some way to take initiative over their own lives; to experience some element of personal challenge, and to grow in self-esteem from their leisure activity.
The lonely perilous sports such as mountaineering, sky diving, surfing and boating, which afford great personal satisfaction and achievement for the more affluent citizen, are usually unrealizable for the poor man of the inner city; he and his family must still make do with open fire hydrants in summer, concrete enclosures and hardly any recreational facilities and programs for adolescents and older people.
Too often the consequences of this lack of recreational planning have already been seen erupting in anti-social behavior and interpersonal conflicts that have helped increase the current crime rate in the United States to an alarming 75% since 1966.
This situation, dire in its prediction for the future of our cities, raises some crucial questions. How will society’s traditionally work-oriented value system adapt to a reduced work week and perhaps subsidized unemployment? Even more important, how will the professional charged with the task of creating and supervising recreational programs re vitalize the programs that now exist and to what extent will federal, state and local services be equipped to cope with new demands?
At present, despite the fact that over $80 billion is spent annually on recreation in the United States, the quality of many federal, state and local recreation programs has been open to criticism. Concerns about quality rather than quantity, relevance rather than facility, currently characterizes the efforts of recreational experts who agree that program planning could use some revision, if not some radical rethinking.
One hundred years of park and recreation development in the nation has broadened the movement from the first Eastern commons and plazas to imposing parks and parking systems throughout the entire country. These changes have taken place concurrently with our social development. People have moved from rural areas to cities and out again; they have become exceptionally mobile; they have more money and more leisure time. They are demanding a variety of outdoor recreation areas to satisfy their many interests.
The core areas of American cities present deep seated and diverse problems, the solution of which is one of the country’s major challenges, observed Ira J. Hutchinson of the National Recreation Association (now the National Park and Recreation Association).
In 1969 Assistant Secretary Samuel C. Jackson of the Department of Housing and Urban Development in an address before the National Park and Recreation Association forum in Washington, D.C., strongly stressed the social urgency of adequate recreational planning for the poor and deprived. He urged his audience of professionals and volunteers in public and private agencies to take note that citizens in our communities think recreation and park programs are important, and not “disposable frills.”
“I hope you realize, as the Kerner Commission did, that recreation programs and park areas rank no less than fifth place in the spectrum of ghetto resident grievances,” he observed.
The Secretary stressed the vital role recreation can play in establishing relationships that contribute to group and community growth and identity. His convictions in this regard were amply supported by the findings of the National Advisory Disorders (Kerner Commission) in 1968 which interviewed 1200 blacks and whites in fifteen cities and four suburban areas of the most crucially disturbed localities coast to coast.
In four cities, after the disturbances, programs had been initiated to increase recreational facilities in ghetto communities. A month and a half after the New Brunswick disturbances, local businessmen donated five portable swimming pools to the city. A boat which the city used as a recreation center was also donated and towed to the city by private companies.
In Atlanta, work began on a playground for which area residents had been petitioning for two years.
In Elizabeth, the recreation department moved a playground closer to a poor black neighborhood.
In Tampa, a former high school coach was hired as director of youth services for the county neighborhood service centers.
Actually, the role of concerned citizens in providing public recreational programs began in the United States as far back as 1885. Unfortunately, although the history of this involvement is spotted with some progressive movement, on the whole lackadaisical developments have failed to keep pace with changes in cultural and social patterns that occur when one ethnic group moves into a community replacing another.
In 1885, for example, the first efforts to improve recreational facilities for the underprivileged were led by Joseph Lee, who was shocked to see boys arrested for playing in Boston streets; George E. Johnson was moved at the pathos of the attempts of little children to play in the narrow crowded alleys in Pittsburgh.
It is significant that the recreation movement in the United States began in a reaction to wretched housing, overcrowding and immoral conditions in our large cities at the start of the century. The consciences of civic leaders and social workers were stirred into action by the effect of these conditions upon the children and youth living in the blighted neighborhoods.
The decade of the 1890’s saw the rise of social centers such as Hull House in Chicago. This in turn was followed by major developments in the concept of “open space” parks that included playground equipment. Ironically, however, during this era and throughout the 20’s, blacks and other minority groups were largely segregated from public recreational services, and only minimally served by voluntary organizations.
The most hopeful sign relating to the needs of the depressed masses of the city appeared with the formation in 1911 of the National Federation of Settlements and Neighborhood Centers, five years after the formation of the Playground Association of America (now the National Recreation and Parks Association) in 1906. The Association was the logical outcome of earlier efforts. The recreation leaders of the nation recognize the Association for the many outstanding contributions it has made to recreation and the nation. During this era a further expansion of leisure time pursuits became available through the founding of three outstanding youth serving agencies; the Boy Scouts in 1910, the Camp Fire girls and Girl Scouts in 1912. These years were also characterized by a marked expansion in the camping movement.
College and high school athletics advanced, with better facilities available, larger numbers participating and more effective administration and control. The inter-mural program gained a sound foothold about 1914 and made steady progress.
In actual measure, however, at this time all of the attempts at accommodating the poor were really geared for the newly arrived immigrants and only secondarily to the movement of blacks from the south to the industrial centers of the north. But in 1919, a violent race riot in New York’s Harlem finally prompted some recognition of the critically unmet needs of New York’s black population.
During the depression years in the 1930s local recreation budgets were reduced, but the widespread expenditure of federal funds for leadership and facilities stimulated the development of services in many communities.
Several federal departments developed services and facilities affecting the use of leisure, among them, the National Park Service in the U.S. Department of the Interior, the Forest Service and the Extension Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Office of Education and the Division of Recreation of the Office of Community War Services in the Federal Security Agency, and the Federal Public Housing Authority in the National Housing Agency.
World War II caused inevitable adjustments in recreation programs and new developments to meet war time needs. Unlike the situation in World War I (1914-1918), responded directly and exclusively by the Armed forces themselves.
With the advent of the national defense era during World War II and the post war reconstruction era presented new opportunities for recreational programs. The desegregation of the U.S. Department of the Interior and the City Recreational Board in Washing ton, D.C., made it possible for blacks to use recreational facilities in the nation’s capital. Jim Crow restrictions prevailing throughout the mid ’40s and ’50s were finally struck down by the Civil Rights protest of the early 1960s, which evidenced the deep resentment blacks felt toward unfair and restrictive laws and practices.
Looking at expenditures for recreation over the past ten years, questions must arise as to why the residents in urban centers felt cheated, why programs were considered irrelevant by many of those for whom they were created. Total operating and capital expenditures for public recreation and park increased from $770 million in 1960 to over $1 billion by early 1969. The increased costs meant higher taxes, more bonded debt, and new local fees and service charges. During that period local governments acquired 335,376 acres for parks and recreation, bringing the total available for such purposes to 1-1/2 million acres. By the end of the 1960s the federal government had more than fifty programs providing grants to state and local governments for uses relating to parks and recreation. Similarly, there existed formal or informal city-school agreements in almost every major city in the United States, frequently making school facilities available after school hours, during evenings, and in rare cases on weekends.
The explanations of this imbalance are enormously complex. Without question throughout this period of complaint there existed formal and informal arrangements to keep school facilities open during non-school hours. Also, semi-public religious and private organizations supplemented city recreation programs with numerous activities. Instead of blaming administrators and practitioners for the inadequate programs for blacks and other minorities, some leaders, puzzled by the limited response of inner-city dwellers to recreation services, blame “factors peculiar to inner-city residents them selves.” To these leaders NRPA’s Ira J. Hutchinson, Jr., has suggested that “the root of the problem is the use of inappropriate or inappropriately interpreted principles and guidelines” in the development of these programs, many of which have been and continue to be oriented to middle and upper-middle income groups.
The Kerner Commission has since confirmed Hutchinson’s view, documenting in its report that the government and the political leaders were unresponsive and did not act on the complaints they heard.
Sociologist Adam Yarmolinsky in a 1968 Daedalus article on “The Service Society” stressed the need for more “tuning in” on the part of municipal administrators. “There is no inconsistency between analyzing and organizing urban service as a complex system, and the idea of making separate provisions to adapt the system to individual needs and demands,” Yarmolinsky instructed, emphasizing the need for direct community participation in determining specific leisure needs and implementing programs.
The state of recreation programs for inner-city residents at the time of the racial disturbances of 1967 in many cases resulted not only from insensitivity to the needs of the communities, and from consequent lack of proper planning, but from deliberate efforts by state and local governments to ignore protests made by minority groups through legitimate, non-violent channels. Bearing this out the Kerner Commission found that in Cincinnati a delegation of two hundred blacks representing the inner-city community councils went before the City Council to protest inadequate neighborhood recreation facilities. Only one member had been allowed to make a brief statement before the Council. This incident had occurred just two months prior to the riots there.
Community action programs founded by the United States Office of Economic Opportunity formulated some excellent summer projects. In addition, in some cities industry cooperated in supporting recreation ventures, including some specifically for senior citizens. Industry has participated far less than it could have , though a possible reason might be that in many areas industry simply has not been approached. At any rate, the answers to the “whys” of non participation among large groups of citizens are enormously complex and some questions still await answers despite the proliferation of programs, mentioned above.
Preceding any investigations. of the issues in the planning and implementation of programs for leisure time must be a constructive confrontation with public and professional attitudes militating against proposals which do not promise immediate improvement in housing or job training for the poor. Such a confrontation would lead toward expanded political, economic and social guidelines on what constitutes minimum human need. Even more compelling, however, is the mandate for direct community participation in determining specific leisure needs and implementing programs.
Since 1968 a number of dynamic new approaches following the Yarmolinsky guide lines have surfaced, especially in services to urban youth. The use of indigenous leadership by youth-serving organizations has corroded patterns of planning from the top, which had not encouraged local youths in the construction of programs designed to their own specifications.
During 1968 and 1969, however, the concepts of youth recreational services expanded as almost every traditional youth agency in the country went about the creative process of adapting its formal programs and initiating new services more appealing to today’s youth.
Fortunately, in that period the National Federation of Settlements established community change as its goal, restructured and provided innovative programs for tutoring, self-image building, and drug education. Likewise, the B’nai B’rith Youth Organizations, the Catholic Youth Organizations, the Y.M.C.A., Y.W.C.A., and Jewish Community Centers began instituting role playing and sensitivity sessions for youth, including projects for protecting the environment, drug prevention and even in some instances, federally funded programs for the training of young community leaders.
Since 1968 new youth organizations have been formed, mainly Aspira in America, an organization which seeks to build self esteem among Puerto Rican youngsters while furthering their education and Youth Organization Unlimited, a community action oriented group of over 350 youth organizations, some of which are being funded by HEW in four regional workshops on crime and delinquency.
Interest in youth by the federal government was symbolized in the special White House Conference on Youth in 1970. There were recorded the views of selected youth and youth-oriented public and private agencies on foreign and domestic relations; civil rights for blacks, Hispanic groups, Chicanos, Asian Americans and American Indians; drugs; poverty; environment; legal services; employment; and the general ethos of American Society.
Despite the enormous contributions made by public and private organizations, it re mains a fact that in many cases leisure-time services for disadvantaged youth play a subordinate role within programs of higher priority. A comprehensive report, published in 1969 through the efforts of William Mirengoff, acting director of the Job Corps, capped the collective efforts of Operation Retrieval.
The purpose of O.R., begun in 1967, was to compile data on the successes and limitations of the youth employment experiments spun off by Manpower Development and Training Acts of 1962. The data from 55 education and development projects for youth were then assessed by expert consultants. It was found that recreational and cultural enrichment programs were scarce. The few recreation programs provided pool, table tennis, lounges and sport equipment. The few cultural enrichment programs included trip to museums, beaches, universities and tourist attractions to familiarize disadvantaged youth with knowledge and experiences which the middle class was thought to take for granted. As noted, there were few such services, and those which existed sometimes met with negative community reaction, were wasting time and money instead of getting training for jobs. Within the program itself there was controversy over the extent to which recreation or cultural enrichment programs contributed to employability. Consequently, in the project findings no recommendations were made for improvements in those areas.
Certainly the youth of this generation have made it clear that they will not settle into a stereotyped image of wild and pointless rebellion, that their demands for involvement and self-determination can no longer be channeled into meaningless diversions in outmoded custodial-type recreation areas. The energetic response of youth to the political, social, economic and environmental issues has been matched in many ways by the agencies which serve them, and by grass roots and self-help organizations.
Lagging behind these innovative youth services, and moving at a disgracefully slow pace, are services designed for the aged of our country. What’s more, little if any consideration has been given to the sideline worker “old before his time”, who increasingly is being terminated by mandatory retirement.
It is generally accepted that the older person, in order to establish an acceptable self-concept based on leisure, a rationale for the activity on which he bases his new or altered identity, must find identity. He must legitimize leisure activity so that it is appropriate for him in terms of traditional and contemporary values applicable not only to the aging but to the population in general. Hence, for most voluntary agencies the goals of senior citizens programs tend to be similar. These usually include the following: to provide a purpose for retirement living; to learn to do what one wishes to do to widen social contacts and maintain old friendships; to recreate old hobbies and learn new interests; to mix with people who are interested in you; to serve other people if one so desires.
The voluntary associations not only provide the elderly with opportunities for sociability and meaningful participation in activities considered important by society, but they function significantly on occasion as pressure groups, seeking certain ends through influencing other power structures, notably business and government. While numerous voluntary organizations serving the elderly have struggled to maintain their goals, it is painfully clear that the problems of aging in our society cannot be fully ameliorated only through senior citizens programs, regardless of their quality.
In 1969, during hearings before the Special Committee on Aging of the United States Senate, it was emphasized that “People who work with senior citizens in a recreation program find that sooner or later they involve the whole person in all of his problems: housing, health, income maintenance, transportation, and the like … The recreation program cannot be stereotyped.” During the same hearings, recommendations were offered by members of the workshop on recreation and education. Several of the recommendations follow:
Develop more effective informational programs regarding benefits available to older Americans to insure that those eligible receive services.
Develop employment and volunteer programs using older persons as community service aids.
Provide funds to local agencies to develop education and recreation programs and facilities.
Expand funds for getting service to people where they are, i.e. libraries, educational T.V., nutrition, etc.
Provide support for education in the use of health services.
Promote creative partnership between government and voluntary agencies for training and implementing action programs at national, state, and local levels.
Despite federal funds available through the Older American Act of 1965, and despite the fact that nearly a dozen federal agencies have more programs for older people, many think that society has demonstrated one of its greatest shortcomings in providing services to the aging. Donald Kent observes that in spite of the recognition at state and community levels of the necessity for planning to meet the total needs of older people, efforts to obtain federal grants have been practically without avail and have lacked support in most states.
In addition to the young and the old and the traditional victims of a faltering economy the unskilled, black and white, the ethnic minorities, and newly arrived immigrants there is a new class of people whom W.H. Ferry refers to as the “liberated margin.” These are people permanently sidelined as a result of automation and technological efficiency. Recent growth in the size of the labor-force, along with a reduction in the labor required per unit of output, has resulted in a scramble among industry, labor, and the government to adopt policies designed to reduce the labor-force. Business firms have increasingly resorted to mandatory retirement policies. Labor unions have recommended a shorter work week, longer vacations, and earlier retirement. The federal government in 1961 lowered the male’s age of eligibility for social security, partly in response to the lack of job opportunities for older workers; and in 1972 discussed lowering it still further.
Ferry observed that the growing inability to absorb workers into the economy will give the question of “just distribution of resources” an emphasis it never had before. It is noted too that no economic theory provides for a “liberated margin,” and that the pattern of technological displacement is predicted by some to be not a transient employment slump but a hardening economic pattern, requiring some radical, planned alternatives for using the resulting unchanneled free time. The new class of displaced workers seems caught in a vise; on the one hand are traditional negative views toward unemployment and on the other are national trends toward shorter work weeks, earlier retirement, constructive use of spare time, and enticements by the communications media for travel and recreation pursuits.
On a more positive note, Harold L. Sheppard suggests that to the extent that an individual’s “possibilities” are a function both of his personality and of what is made available through institutions and the community, the increase in leisure-time can be said to have provided a diverse new area for employment opportunities. It is observed that vast new services and an expanding sector of goods are included in the leisure industry;. thus, as work makes leisure possible, leisure can in turn make other work possible. Sheppard also offers the idea that for the displaced or under-employed worker a major implication of “… technological progress vis-a-vis leisure is the opening up of a new dimension for participation in citizenship and politics for population sectors not previously very active.”
Current approaches to the use of leisure-time have tended to consider, at least in theory, the process aspects of recreation. Planners are beginning to scale down recreation and cultural experiences to particular target locations, and to question how current concepts of leisure for the individual match the life-style of the community. For inner city planners the essence of this trend will have to be programming which avoids insult to existing socio-cultural patterns and at the same time offering valuable and appropriate services to participants. This means that the professional recreation worker needs to take the time to identify leaders in the community and to seek their advice in formulating and implementing services. He also needs to explore existing centers of community activity the bowling alleys, pool halls, corner grocery stores, movie theaters, etc.- perhaps enlisting the help of the proprietors, who frequently have excellent relations with the residents they serve.
Considering the shortage of available land, particularly in cities, one possibility for making the most of a little space is the use of multidimensional recreation areas. The multi-use area may serve a larger number of people in the community if it is designed with apparatus which may be moved or converted to accommodate the needs and interests of varying age groups. Many of the past failures of park and recreation programs have resulted from “thinking too big” -in terms of space, population, and money-while overlooking uses for small spaces and programs and limited funds. Secretary Jackson suggests that if the success of park and recreation departments were measured by the numbers served and the quality of the service, instead of the amount of land occupied, “many of our priorities would be literally turned upside down.”
Another viable approach to encouraging participation has been the use of mobile recreation units. Portable pools have been set up in some cities; other cities have used mobile zoos, craft wagons, and portable stages for living drama. The mobile units have the advantage of reaching more people, providing an arena for spontaneous involvement, getting maximum use and effectiveness from available resources, and substantially reducing vandalism.
In considering the future with regard to leisure-time, it seems that greater federal participation will be necessary. In programs for youth and the elderly , cooperative efforts between government and voluntary service agencies are indicated. It may be that extensive planning and expenditures for leisure will be viewed unsympathetically by the public. Nevertheless, federal planning is indispensable to nationwide participation. One broad proposal for the government role calls for planning directly by the Congress, rather than by a new bureaucratic structure, the use of political machinery to achieve greater utilization of resources, and recognition that the realities of the present economic situation demand more than the simplistic solutions of the 18th and 19th centuries.
There is undeniably a need for analyzing the current national perspective on leisure. Recent research indicates major increases in both active and passive forms of recreational activities overshadowed that the benefits of outdoor recreation, despite increased participation, “are not being distributed more liberally among the disadvantaged , as reflected by income , education and color.” Reasons given for the disparity are the increasingly inadequate or inaccessible supply, and lack of time.
It is easily argued that decent housing and city planning are essential for even minimum well-being, and that these prerequisites also foster the material productivity so emphasized in our society. Extending these factors to leisure needs, it is similarly argued that excessive urbanization and inadequate transportation facilities deprive the poor citizen of his nominal free time, while overcrowded housing relegates him to the streets for his amusement. Senator Fred R. Harris of Oklahoma notes, with regard to the urban poor, that there are requirements for leisure, primarily money for sporting equipment and for admission fees to museums, concerts, swimming pools and other facilities, and for transportation. These same requirements, Harris states, while taken for granted by most middle-class Americans, are the very factors which render programs and activities inaccessible to the poor.
Accessibility to cultural enrichment programs, parks, and recreation areas must be gained by extending services from the inner-cities outward. Furthermore, the concepts of social justice and self-determination must extend beyond present political and economic translations to experiences which. fill the spiritual void left by an increasingly automated, technocratic, pluralistic society.
A well-rounded recreation program requires the use of parks, playgrounds, vacant lots, streets, backyards, lakes, beaches, and all available land and outer areas. It requires also the use of school buildings; community houses; gymnasiums; libraries; auditoriums; museums;’ church, club and other institutional buildings and the homes of the community. The program needs the support of church, civic and welfare organizations; and neighbor hood, labor, commercial and industrial organizations; the cooperation of park, school, recreational and other government departments; and above all the active support of the citizenship as a whole.
Undeniably the necessity for national planning with respect to the leisure needs of the inner city is great. The Ferriss study reveals the outdoor recreation preferences evoked by the socio-cultural system through rewards such as status, sociability of group activities, value orientations and attitudes. But his study shows that persons with different socio-economic characteristics participate in varying degrees in recreation programs.
As always, the reasons given for this disparity are inadequacies of both supply and dollars. While this may well be the case, future city planners might be advised to include the cost-free prerequisites that help to extend recreation for the inner city dweller out ward from the inner city, rather than persist in the traditional paternalistic pattern that extends- service from the outside in.
The improvement of low cost urban transportation extending the boundaries of the inner cities to the green of the country-side would be a valuable and appropriate service. Also, considering the shortage of available land, making the most of small allotments of space by transforming vacant lots and dilapidated buildings into miniature parks could be the beginning of a healthful new trend.
More important than even this, however, is the need for planners now to question how current concepts of leisure match the life-style of the community. For the social worker or recreational director this may mean a different set of concepts and a new role. It could mean a drastic reversal from the role of prescriber to listener: a role where the professional must take time to identify the leaders in a given urban community, and solicit their advice and listen before formulating and implementing services.
Guichard Parris, for many years active in public relations and urban affairs, served for·twenty-five years as director of public relations for the National Urban League. An honors graduate of Amherst College, he also holds a masters degree from Columbia University. He is a board member of the Hospital for Special Surgery of New York, vice chairman of the Advisory Council of the Columbia University School of Social Work, and board member of the Hillcrest Children’s Center of the City of New York. He is Trustee of the Schomburg Collection of the New York Public Library, a former president of the Catholic Interracial Council of New York, serves on the national board of the Big Brothers Association of America, and is currently co-chairman of the Public Relations Committee of Catholic Big Brothers of New York. Mr. Parris is co-author of the recently published book: Blacks in the City: A History of the National Urban League (Little, Brown).