Roald Dahl, the celebrated author, wrote a delightfully disgusting story for children about a wretched, extra-specially horrible couple named Mr. and Mrs. Twit. Not only are they dirty, ugly, and mean-spirited, they are also stupid, and fall prey to their own nasty tricks.
The Twits built their house without any windows, because they didn't want every Tom, Dick and Harry peeping in to see what they were doing. It never occurred to them that it made it more of a prison than a home.
It's the Twits I think about when I hear of another municipality cutting its recreation and park budget.
Sure, you can build a house more cheaply without windows. It'll save on materials and labor. It may reduce heating and cooling costs. It may even save on maintenance. But who would want to live there?
I contend that recreation and park services are an integral, essential feature of any well-built, open community. They must not be mere window-dressing—just a frivolity for good times, but the first to discard when things turn grave.
Park and recreation services impact every aspect of modern living, from stimulating our economic activity and mutual wellness, to safeguarding our natural environment and collective resiliency, to strengthening our social capital and communal livability.
These essential services don’t just offer benefits to be enjoyed only in prosperity, but advance practical solutions to many of our most intractable issues. That these channels become all the more critical to real people during economic downturns, societal distresses, and natural calamities are all the more reasons to keep investing in their outcomes.
Where else are you going to find the resources and expertise to nurture physical, mental and emotional therapy? Fortify economic development and tourism? Administer food distribution programs? Reduce crime and increase community safety? Foster diversity and cross-cultural cooperation? Create transportation alternatives and reduce traffic congestion? Preserve and enhance biodiversity? Administer preventative treatment for drug abuse and risky behaviors? Facilitate positive youth and family development? Strengthen motor and cognitive skills in young children? Expedite medical recovery and boost immune systems? Raise student performance and educational attainment? Establish a sense of place and belonging? And provide many other critical services?
Through integral park and recreation systems, that’s where.
Our collective well being is framed in our communities’ windows to recreation. Not only do they enhance the desirability of living and working there, shed light on the issues, enable an exchange of fresh ideas, and facilitate engagement between diverse groups where there had been only walls before, they are the most effectual conduits for progress we have.
Curtailing or eliminating them only cuts off our nose to spite our face—which is also counter to the resolve of sensible people.
A Penn State study revealed that 91 percent of Pennsylvanians support keeping existing funds dedicated to parks, recreation, trails, conservation and open space. And 82 percent support increasing funds for these purposes, even if it would cost the average household $10 more annually.
Here’s what we need to view from our window on the future: for our own good, we must continue to invest in parks, public spaces, recreation and green infrastructure.
See, it’s the windows that make the profound difference between a mausoleum and a home. Just who are we investing for? Don't be a Twit.
Tim Herd is the CEO of the Pennsylvania Recreation and Park Society