"The Parks Are Being Loved to Death" and Other Frauds and Deceits in Recreation Management

Article excerpt

Introduction

This paper is a polemic about "interests" in public-sector recreation research, management, and policy, and their influence on the concepts used in research. The central "fact" of recreation research is the agency budget, an annual "event" requiring constant justification. Much recreation and leisure research, especially at the applied end of the spectrum, is undertaken to provide such justification. The primary function of concepts such as "benefits," spiritual values, overuse, carrying capacity, and "future generations arguments" is to help justify agency budgets or to advance specific priorities within those budgets. Furthermore, many of these concepts are based in elitist conceptions of the good or desirable, an elitism that comes at the expense of low-income people in general and the working class in particular. There has been little discussion of social class issues within the recreation literature and, in some cases, such discussion has been studiously avoided (Cranz, 1982). Americans have traditionall y considered America to be a middle-class country (Cassidy, 1995), and the nation's parks in particular have been seen as a neutral ground where all classes can mingle freely (Cranz, 1982; More, 1985). Although such mingling was a central objective in Fredenck Law Olmstead's conception of park design, the historical record shows a different picture. Social inequality has always been with us, growing rapidly after the Civil War and peaking in the 1920's (Hurst, 1998), and class considerations have always dominated park design and management (Cranz, 1982; Domosch 1996; Taylor, 1999). Today, inequality has grown dramatically since the "golden" era of the U.S. economy in the 1950's and 1960's, affecting virtually every aspect of American life and policy (Cassidy, 1995; Hurst 1998; Marger 1999). It would be unrealistic to believe that recreation resources and policy are exempt from these influences. The contemporary social climate requires that we recognize the pattern of interests that shape policy and the relati onships between those interests and the very concepts we use in research and management.

To illustrate, consider an historical example: Despite lip service to the "melting pot" philosophy, the great American urban parks of the 19th century often were designed by and for the upper or upper middle classes who sought to preserve them as areas for social display (Cranz, 1982), emphasizing passive leisure pursuits, cultural improvement, and refined manners (Rosenzweig, 1987). By contrast, Taylor (1999) points out that many working-class people lived in small, crowded quarters and worked long hours of brutal, mind-numbing work. For them, public spaces like parks became the primary location for exercising, playing games and sports, drinking, organized social gatherings, courting, and lounging--things that they often could not do indoors. Inevitably, their behavior conflicted with middle- and upper-class mores, so a range of controls was instituted to regulate working-class behavior (Taylor, 1999). For example, immigrants such as Germans, with their love of beer, sausages, and "oompha" music, were despi sed (Cranz, 1982), and the activities they preferred--music, dancing, and drinking--could be effectively controlled through park policies like prohibition, permitting, early closure, etc. But such policies require justification. Then, as today, few people would be likely to announce publicly that they disliked Germans, so justification needed to be couched in "higher minded" ideas--appreciative use, protection of spiritual values, improvement of the poorer classes, and the like. Yet the effects of such concepts are plain--the exclusion of uses desired by the working class. I believe that we need to recognize that the same processes--with the same outcomes--shape recreation policy today. We need to examine our own "higher minded" ideas, asking where they come from and whose interests they serve. …