The Place of a Recreational Program in the Organization of a Municipality
Report 164, February 1940

In June, 1938, the Bureau was requested by the then Mayor of Detroit to make a study of the proper organization of a recreational program f or the City. The Bureau inquired in to the practices of several of the larger cities, but the study was not circulated as it was understood that the matter had been dropped for the time being. More recently, the problem has again arisen, and the p resent report is a summary of the original investigation.

I. HISTORICAL

A park has been traditionally regarded as a place for passive enjoyment and quiet. The great parks in this country were developed after 1850 – Central Park in New York in 1853, Fairmount Park in Philadelphia in 1867, Belle Isle in Detroit in 1879, Franklin Park in Boston in 1883. These were the “landscape” type of parks. But increasingly urbanization and industrialization not only made city parks more necessary but led to a new concept of parks as places for active enjoyment, sport, and recreation. (The Encyclopedia of Social Sciences, articles on “Parks” and “Recreation”)
Because of the failure of governments to provide recreational facilities for the people, commercial recreation was developed. A belated realization of the importance of wholesome recreation led to the development shortly after 1900, of organized community recreation.* This program of recreation was essentially one of social group work to encourage people to gather together to enjoy themselves during the added leisure which the industrialization of the 1920’s and 1930’s gave them.

The difficulty of developing a proper organization f or recreation within park areas has been due largely to the traditional view of the utility of parks in a city pattern. Robert M. Goodrich, Executive Director of the Providence Government Research Bureau, says, “I believe that the traditional park function has lost its vitality, if it ever had one, and that today the purpose of a park is essentially recreation. Today our parks servo as a suitable demonstration ground for certain year-round activities . . . The park also serves as a neighborhood playground . . . These functions in my judgment are of greater importance than that rendered by the park as a botanical or zoological garden through which people may drive on a Sunday afternoon”.  (From a letter to the Detroit Bureau of Governmental Research on the Recreational Program in Providence, June 27, 1938.) This viewpoint appears to be practically universal among the directors of bureaus of’ governmental research whose opinion was asked on the subject.

In Detroit the park system was organized in 1871 and recreation in 1904. This corresponds to the approximate development of other large cities.

An aspect of the traditional attitude on park organization is the use of parks as the location for museums of various types, such as arboreta, botanical and zoological gardens and aquariums, natural history and art museums, outdoor theatres and music shells, together with innumerable statues and memorials which often give them the appearance of a prosperous cemetery. These all produce an aspect of “passive” recreation.

But coupled to these passive activities, recent trends are to add picnic grounds, swimming beaches, lagoons and pools for model sail and motor boats, athletic fields, playgrounds, tennis courts, golf courses, and other “active” functions which belong within the field of recreation.

There is some inclination to designate these recreational functions of parks as “non-supervised” recreation, that is, facilities which can be used by anyone, to distinguish them from directed play which is so much the function of modern recreation programs. But the distinction is difficult, because the “non-supervised” recreation should, to a great part, be “supervised” in order that the participants get the greatest benefit.

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