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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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Chapter I: Recreational Habits and Needs (continued)


In the above discussion an effort has been made to analyze some of the more important factors which influence individual needs for recreation. Since mass needs are an aggregate of individual needs, the next consideration logically involves an appraisal of the country's population as a whole, its origin, growth, composition, predominant characteristics, and economic and social conditions.

The number of people to be served, where they live, the leisure time they have available, their mobility and income, are factors which determine the amount and location of recreational opportunities utilized today, and give some indication of future requirements.

In 400 years a vast wilderness has become a great Nation of farms, dotted here and there by smoky cities, by remnants of the great forests, prairies, and plains of early days. Four hundred years ago the Indians saw the first immigrants, conquistadors from Spain; today we see the latest arrivals from all the continents of the globe. Four hundred years ago the Spanish explored the southwest, bringing with them Catholic padres and missions to convert the Indians. In 1607 the first Englishmen settled at Jamestown. In 1620 the ancestors of all those whose forebears "came over on the Mayflower" disembarked at Plymouth Rock.

From a handfull of white people in 1620, the population had increased to 3,500,000 at the time of the Declaration of Independence. Beginning with a narrow fringe of populated land along the Atlantic coast in 1776, containing no more people than inhabit the State of Missouri today, the young Nation pushed ever westward, until by 1853 it included the Pacific coast and the continental United States we know now. Its population had increased to about 123,000,000 by 1930. In 1940 it was estimated at 132,000,000.

Figure 1.—The human wealth of the United States is composed of many racial backgrounds.

This spectacular rate of growth is now decreasing. Although the greatest numerical increase occurred in the decade 1920-30, the rate of growth has been declining since 1860. This decline is due to drastic reduction in immigration in recent years, and a lowering of the birth rate which has been in evidence for nearly a century. The decline in the birth rate is noticeable principally among urban populations where higher economic requirements result in later marriages, where more women are working in commercial fields, where influences of urban living act as biological deterrents, where knowledge of birth control is increasing and where the child, instead of being as in the past a financial asset, is now an economic burden. It is estimated that if present trends continue, the population of he United States will reach a peak of approximately 158,000,000 about 1980.3 A plan of outdoor recreation must consider this coming population.

3 National Resources Committee, Population Problems, July 1938. Web Edition Note: Actually population figure for 1980 (U.S. Census Bureau) was 226,545,805; population growth has not peaked.

Past trends in population changes and studies of present economic conditions indicate that the principal population increases will center in the industrial sections of the East and the Lake States, the West and South Central sections of the country, and the Pacific coast. The South-Atlantic and the South, with their present populations are finding difficulty in maintaining a suitable economic level.4 Similar difficulties are being encountered in the Great Plains and the cut-over regions of Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota.4 The provision for recreation should reflect these trends.

4 National Resources Committee, Problems of a Changing Population, 1938.

We began as an agricultural nation. The advent of the machine, however, rapidly changed our occupations and our habitat. As recently as 1890, 64.4 percent of the population was rural, but in 1930 this figure had dropped to 43.8 percent. In 1930, 90 percent of the crops were raised by 50 percent of the farmers, and it has been stated that it is quite possible this 50 percent will ultimately be able to supply foodstuffs for the entire Nation.5 The changes in occupation and habitat following the introduction of the machine have resulted in millions of people being brought into cities from the countryside, where they had formerly lived and worked under conditions of natural environment more or less in harmony with human biological requirements. In 1930, 47,000,000 Americans lived on two-tenths of 1 percent of our land, and an additional 37,000,000 lived in smaller urban communities. All these people need recreation in a natural environment as a balance to their daily lives in urban surroundings. The growth of our cities, large and small, has been accompanied by a failure to reserve sufficient open spaces within and adjoining them; and their environs have often been despoiled of their recreational value. This growth has frequently resulted in the destruction of notable historic sites. On the other hand, the development of suburbs, of satellite cities, of garden cities, is somewhat modifying the ill effects of too intensive urban development; and metropolitan, county, and State parks are beginning to complement the usefulness of city parks and playgrounds in supplying recreational opportunities.

5 Roy Helton, in a speech before the National Recreation Congress, 1938.

At the other end of the scale of population density is the solitary farmstead surrounded by hundreds, perhaps thousands of acres of wooded Ozark hills or Montana plains. If the urban dweller has too many neighbors, the rural person requires the boon of more frequent fellowship.

Figure 2. (click on image for an enlargement in a new window)

Largely as the result of labor-saving devices, new techniques, and improved seed and stock, the output of the average farm worker has increased two and one-half times during the past 60 years. However, farm tenancy is still prevalent in many of the rural sections, and with the relative decrease in the movement of population from farm to urban centers during recent years, it is noticeable that the increase in the rural population has been more pronounced in the poorer than in the more prosperous rural sections. In general, and particularly in such sections, it is now considered very important that more attention be given to public provision of opportunities for higher standards of education, health, and recreation than has been recognized in the past.

Figure 3. (click on image for an enlargement in a new window)

Most rural communities and small towns are not now being effectively served by agencies which provide areas, facilities, and leadership for the recreational and cultural life of the people. The leaders in the park and recreation movement, working in close cooperation with other agencies concerned with the provision of recreational services, should concern themselves with a solution of this particular rural problem. Parks under qualified leadership, and carefully located and planned with respect to the needs of rural sections, are natural centers for a great variety of recreational and cultural activities in which rural people could participate either as individuals or as groups. Particular attention should be given to the provision of wholesome recreational programs for rural youth to counteract the glamour of the city or the nearby roadhouse.

It is not possible to describe in detail here the content of the program which might be initiated on parks, but in a series of program demonstrations during the summer of 1939, 74 different activities were conducted. Music, dramatics, social games, nature and travel talks made up a varied program. Rural people love to gather in the open during the evening and the enjoyment of any presentation is enhanced by the outdoor setting. Day and overnight camping do have a strong appeal, and there is always an enthusiastic response to campfire programs. The popularity of activities naturally will be varied. In some parks, swimming, boating, and other aquatic sports will be in the ascendency, while in others picnicking, hiking and the arts and crafts will have their ardent devotees. Physical activities which have a strong appeal for the youth and young adults in the rural districts include softball, quoits, croquet, volleyball, and tournaments connected with such activities. Community days in parks, which emphasize programs suited to the whole family, are very desirable. In the long run, the adequacy of the facilities provided and the interest and ability of the leadership in a park has a great influence in determining the attitude of the people toward the park and the activities in which they will participate.

Figure 4.

The average age of our population is becoming older due to a decreasing death and birth rate. "In 1900 there were 90 persons under 20 years of age for each 100 persons aged 20 to 60 years, whereas the corresponding ratio in 1935 was only 68, and by 1975 will be about 48. Conversely, where there were 13 persons over 60 years of age per 100 persons aged 20 to 60 years in 1900, the corresponding ratio in 1935 was 17, and in 1975 will be about 34."6 These predictions are, of course, contingent upon the continuation of present trends.

6 National Resources Committee, Problems of a Changing Population, 1938.

It is not to be supposed, however, that we are "rapidly becoming a nation in wheel chairs, dependent for support on a vanishing company of productive workers. In fact, the proportion of the total population in the productive age classes, 20-64 years, will apparently be greater throughout the twentieth century than during the nineteenth. The striking changes are occurring in the two age extremes—the young and the very old—rather than in the intervening age groups."7 We must continue to plan adequately for millions of people between the ages of 20 and 64 a wide range which touches both youth and age.

7 National Resources Committee, Population Changes, 1938.

The profound changes in the age composition of the population, if they occur as present trends appear to indicate, will probably cause a shift in the recreational viewpoint. More older and fewer young people will mean a national trend toward the less active forms of recreation. Youth is inclined toward the more vigorous types of sports, is more plastic and venturesome, and consequently its range of interests is wide and varied, whereas advancing age tends to lessen people's desire for highly organized and strenuous sports, as well as their capacity for safe indulgence in them. We must, therefore, in providing for recreational opportunities today, plan so that areas and services may be modified to suit changing future conditions.

An increasing number of older people will probably mean a more widespread desire for warm weather recreation in the winter and for cool weather activities in the summer. Provided leisure time and available income permit, there may well be a gradually increasing use of the South, Southwest and Pacific coast during the winter, and a greater summer exodus from cities to the coolness of the mountains, the Atlantic and Pacific seashores, and the woods and lakes of Northern States. At the same time it is possible that more people will prefer the more leisurely pursuit of recreation through sightseeing, educational and cultural activities, and scenic appreciation. The type of pleasure for which National and some State parks stand will probably be in greater demand. At the same time, the keener appreciation of less spectacular things and the less urgent desire to explore actively which accompany the advance in years may receive greater recognition.

As a result of the severe reduction in immigration since the World War, our population is gradually amalgamating by intermarriage of races and nationalities, a process which may nevertheless require several generations for completion. The fusion will probably be less rapid in areas such as certain rural sections and certain dense urban concentrations where one nationality has congregated. The trend of Negro population is important; its rate of increase is less than the national average according to 1930 census figures.

As consolidation of races and nationalities progresses, the people of this country will become more and more homogeneous; and as the years pass, variations or dissimilarities in outdoor recreational desires due to racial or national characteristics and traditions will tend to diminish and the good qualities of each will become the general possession of all. To conserve the background of national traditions will enrich our general heritage. For this reason, notable landmarks and historic sites of the various nativities composing the American population should be preserved.

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