Sherri Torjman – What Am I Skating Towards? Recreation and Community Engagement

Here is Sherri Torjman's response to What are you skating towards in 2012?

Recreation and Community Engagement

Avatar_128I recently delivered a keynote address at the first National Recreation Summit. The event gathered from all regions people who are involved in creating recreational opportunities in communities. I say ‘recreational opportunities’ because the focus did not always take the form of structured programs. Some participants were responsible for safe spaces, like parks and playgrounds. Others were concerned with hiking trails and nature experiences. Still others were employed in arts and cultural programming.

Recreation is clearly a big tent. But at the end of the day, there is a common thread that binds together these disparate efforts. Recreation is a way to foster engagement. It is a strong and powerful method for enabling belonging in communities. A volume of evidence from a wide range of sources shows that recreation contributes powerfully to physical, emotional and social well-being.

What we know, unfortunately, does not translate into what we do. There are many barriers to participating in recreation, not the least of which is cost. Most programs and amenities charge user fees – over and above transportation and child care expenses. The fee problem stems largely from the financing of local governments, which are primarily responsible for supporting recreational and cultural programs and facilities. User fees are the tip of a big fiscal iceberg. The revenue-generating capacity of municipalities does not match their myriad responsibilities: renewing aging infrastructure, tackling social problems rooted in rising inequality and creating a good quality of life for citizens. The financing issue is a complex story for another day. The good news is that, even in the face of serious fiscal challenges, some cities are finding constructive solutions.

Vancouver is a prime example. It has introduced a leisure access card that waives fees to public pools and rinks for individuals and households living on low income. There is also a 50 percent discount on swim and skate lessons as well as admission to the aquarium, botanical gardens and similar public venues. Residents qualify for the card through their eligibility for other programs, such as social assistance. The cards also permit seniors and youth to pay half the adult rates. Perhaps most significant: A leisure buddy attendant card is in the works. It will help those who need a companion in order to participate in the community. Vancouver has taken a small, but noteworthy, step in helping all residents to take part – and become more visible – in the community.

Sherri Torjman is an author, policy analyst, researcher, Vice President of the Caledon Institute of Social Policy and one of Canada's most acclaimed and accomplished commentators on social policy.

View a video of Sherri's Keynote Speech at the Recreation Summit here or see below.

Note: I am releasing individual essays from the collection, What are you skating towards in 2012?  on a regular basis. Upcoming contributions are by Jacques Dufresne, Linda Perry, Ted Jackson, Linda Couture,  and many others. You can access the accumulated essays here.

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