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A Study of the Park and Recreation Problem of the United States





Supplemental Foreword


Recreational Habits and Needs

Aspects of Recreational Planning

Present Public Outdoor Recreational Facilities




A Park and Recreational Land Plan

A Study of the Park and Recreation Problem of the United States
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Roaring River Falls
Kings Canyon National Park, California

Chapter I: Recreational Habits and Needs

map of U.S.

RECREATION is the pleasurable and constructive use of leisure time. It is a physical and mental need, a necessary relaxation and release from strain. Recreation may be physical, intellectual, emotional, or esthetic; it may be active or passive; it may be engaged in virtually anywhere and at any time; it is individual, personal, spontaneous, and involves freedom of choice. It comprises all the endeavors in which man participates solely for the enjoyment they afford him. This enjoyment may be transitory or it may be a thrilling experience, the memory of which colors a lifetime. Since that which benefits the individual benefits society, recreation becomes a concern of society.


In formulating a recreational plan it becomes necessary to find out what activities people desire and need to afford them maximum satisfaction. This cannot be determined altogether by observing the forms of recreation that are the most popular at a given time in a given population group, since individuals generally want to do those things they know from experience will afford them satisfaction; and their experience, in turn, is limited by their social and physical environment. In order accurately to appraise man's recreational wants, consideration must also be given to those characteristics which distinguish him as a being. Probably the most significant of these characteristics is his desire for new and more satisfying ways of life. His first concern has always been to provide food, clothes and shelter. When these become easy to obtain, he sets about improving their quality. This urge for improvement, for new and better ways of living, has been responsible for his progress. It has fathered new social, political, and economic systems, new discoveries in the field of science, new inventions; it has spurred him to explore the earth in search of those resources which contribute to his well-being, to build railroads, concrete highways, and towering cities.


Observing the purposefulness and the bent of his endeavor when not under the compulsion of feeding, clothing, and sheltering himself, scientists have concluded that he is driven by a need for self-expression; that this need is as fundamental as his need for food, clothes, and shelter, and that, in fact, in many individuals it appears to be even greater, since there have been countless thousands who sacrificed life itself for such goals as political and religious liberty, which have little or no relationship to standard necessities.1

1 The Theory of Play by Elmer D. Mitchell and Bernard S. Mason.

His ways of satisfying this need take the form of an adjustment of his native characteristics to his physical and social environment. According to scientists there is no difference, physically, between modern man and the first of his kind to emerge from obscurity. He is, generally, of the same size and build, he has the same mental capacity, and the same fundamental emotional responses. His habits of conduct are organized around the same instincts and drives, the same impulses as motivated the conduct of primitive peoples. Thus, his activities, while strongly colored by his environment, are similar in many fundamental respects to those in which his early ancestors engaged.


Physically, he is a running, jumping, climbing, fighting individual. As a primitive, he employed these aptitudes in eluding his enemies and in procuring the necessities of life; today he exercises them through such sports as football, track and field events, boxing, wrestling, swimming, hiking, and mountain climbing.

His innate love of companionship has been important in shaping his way of life. As a primitive, it was a factor in causing him to band with others of his kind for work and play and for protection against common enemies. Today, his social habits and interests are vital elements in the highly socialized economy he has created, and constitute important motives in shaping his recreational desires.

The earliest records of man reveal evidences of a feeling for harmony and beauty which he expressed through his arts and crafts, his music and dance, through his use of words in story-telling and oratory. This same love of harmony and beauty today causes him to write poetry, compose music, paint pictures, sing, play musical instruments, listen to concerts, travel hundreds of miles to view a beautiful area of natural scenery, and spend hours molding a piece of clay.


He is endowed with a lively curiosity, an urge to handle, uncover, take things apart, explore. This endowment led his early ancestors to pry into the secrets of their environment, to seek the answer to the daily riddles that confronted them, to reason things out; it enabled them to rise above their environment as a start on the road to civilization. This same curiosity and the ability to think creatively causes modern man to engage in activities which have as their objective the acquiring of knowledge for the pleasure it affords, for the thrill that comes from new discoveries concerning himself and the world in which he lives; to become a philosopher and scientist.

Above all, man's ancestors were children of nature a part of the natural scheme of things—attuned to its delicate balance, fearful of its tantrums and its dark secrets, at the same time worshipping it as the source of life. In conformity with these emotional experiences of the past is modern man's need to participate in those activities which take him back to the haunts of his forefathers, that enable him to renew old and thrilling associations, to camp, hike wilderness trails, and experience the thrill of tracking wildlife in its native haunts, either for the kill or to take a picture of it.2

2 The Theory of Play by Mitchell and Mason; An Introduction to Social Anthropology by Clark Wissler.

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There are many other examples of similarities between modern man's activities and those of his early ancestors, but those cited above illustrate the importance of native characteristics in shaping his habits of conduct. When considered in the light of the changes he has brought about in his social and physical environment, they provide a reliable index of those needs which he seeks to gratify through work and play.

The changes he has wrought in his environment have come about through the age-long process of one generation handing on to the next its habits, attitudes and ways of life, which, in turn, have been modified by the new generation's efforts to improve conditions as it found them, to discover new and more satisfying mediums of self-expression. A few of the more important of these changes will illustrate this process.

Once man was a hunter, a herdsman, a farmer, depending directly on nature for his necessities; today he is a specialist who works in a highly complicated industrial civilization for a livelihood. Once, too, he was a craftsman whose work enabled him to find those satisfactions derived from creating useful and beautiful things with his hands; today he earns his living by devoting all his working hours to screwing nuts on bolts, to shoveling coal into a fire box, to practicing corporation law, or to selling life insurance. This same trend is also applicable to the farmer who now depends almost entirely upon the industrial system to furnish him with his clothes and many of his foods and with the tools of his trade, and who, to an increasing degree, relies upon urban amusements for his recreation. The scope, then, of the individual's occupational endeavors has been drastically curtailed, forcing him either to deny his desire and need for a wide range of self-expressive activities, or to find these satisfactions outside his work.

map of U.S.

As compensation for this specialization, he has, through his technical inventions, made it possible for one man to do the work it once required several to do. Thus, instead of having to toil long and exhausting hours, he now works seven or eight hours a day, five and a half days a week and, as a result, has a growing abundance of leisure which he may, if the opportunity is afforded him, devote to those satisfying activities which once constituted a part of his occupation, or to others which provide him with enjoyable mediums of self-expression.

Not only have his technical inventions shortened his work day, but they have, by improving his means of travel, increased the space in which he may both work and play. Once he was limited in all his activities to the distance he could cover on foot; today he speeds across the face of the earth in trains, power driven boats, automobiles and airplanes. As far as time and effort are concerned, he can travel a hundred miles today as quickly and easily as he once traveled five miles.

Finally—and this is probably the most important change he has wrought in his way of life—he has substituted an environment largely of his own making for that in which he spent the first several thousand years of his existence as a species. He has built great cities and literally imprisoned millions of his kind in them.

That he desires a chance to escape occasionally from his urban environment is evidenced by the way those who can afford to rush from the city to the open country on holidays and vacation periods. A study of what he does on those occasions reveals the strength of his urban-bred recreational habits and interests. Instead of seeking the dispersive type of activity which brings him into an intimate contact with nature, he tends to congregate at beaches, on picnic areas, at lookout points and other such gathering places, and to participate in those forms of recreation which are familiar to his everyday experience.

From evidence as sketched above, students have concluded that man's loss of intimate contact with nature has had a debilitating effect on him as a being which can be alleviated only by making it possible for him to escape at frequent intervals from his urban habitat to the open country, and that, furthermore, in order for him to obtain the maximum satisfaction out of his renewed association with nature, he must again learn how to enjoy himself in the out-of-doors by reacquiring the environmental knowledge and skills he has lost during his exile from his natural environment. This applies even to those who live in towns, villages, and rural surroundings since they have largely adopted the habits and interests of the urban civilization with which they are so closely associated.

While the introduction of an industrial economy has brought about many other changes in man's environment and living habits, the foregoing illustrations include those which appear to have had the greatest effect on him. They have in no way lessened his urge for self-expression, but have modified to a drastic extent the ways through which he has sought to gratify that urge, and they have largely forced him to seek recreation by vicarious means, as exemplified by attendance at motion-picture shows, football games, etc., rather than by means through which he is an active participant. When analyzed in the light of those characteristics which have come down to him from his early ancestors, these changes reveal many inadequacies in his present ways of life which may be partially or wholly offset through adequate provision for compensating forms of recreation.

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