Urban Recreation, Forest, and People

May 2, 2007

Recreation lives in the inner-city

Filed under: defining,quality of life,urban — by urban grandpa @ 5:30 am

The public parks and recreation movement grew out of the late 19th century social welfare movement. The first public recreation programs focused on youth – what we might call today, “youth at risk”. Names synonymous with the social welfare movement (Jane Adams, Joseph Lee, Luther Gulick and others) were part of the playground movement. In the 100 plus years of change playgrounds have moved to parks and agencies are park and recreation departments, districts, or leisure service agencies. As American has grown more affluent and supercenters have become more prevalent, many began to wonder if there was still a social welfare aspect of public recreation.

I’m not a city person. My roots are in the midwest. In communities of 130,000 or less and mostly less. Students from our programs rarely have contact with inner cities, large urban areas, or with programs focusing on lower income groups. We recently toured facilities in Louisville, KY and if I might quote one of our students, “We can sense in your actions and your words the commitment you have to recreation and to the people you serve. It is a pleasure to learn from you.” This came at the end of the first day of touring just a couple of recreation centers and visiting with the staff of many of the centers.

Most university park and recreation students in the midwest do not work in the inner-city, nor do they have much contact. The trip to Louisville was an important growth experience for the students and for the faculty. It has been too long since we listened to committed professionals talk about safe-places, life-changing experiences, opportunities to grow, personal commitment, a second chance, and more. Daily this group of outstanding professionals put our profession into action working with youth who may not have anyone else. Their hearts are tugged, the pocketbooks are not bulging, and yet most nights they go home feeling they have made a difference. This remains the core of what recreation is about.

Sure, they worry about budgets, about revenue generation, about improving the quality of life. When they talk about improving the quality of life, they are talking about changing people in small, yet important ways. In ways most of us no longer discuss. They are not focusing on the new supercenter, or the next hot revenue source. Rather they are focusing on people, people in need, people who have no-one else, people who probably would fall through the cracks and become a dredge to society rather than a contributor. These recreation professionals understand why they are in the business, why they chose this way of life, and they love what they do. It shows every time they talk and act. As Tom Peters might say, “They walk the walk and talk the talk”. It was a joy and pleasure to visit with them. My faith in the profession is rekindled.

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April 28, 2006

Can universities create places?

Filed under: quality of life,sense of place,urban — by urban grandpa @ 8:26 pm

“Places have a way of claiming people.” This is so according to Cheng, Krueger, & Daniels in a 2003 article. As I was taken around the San Diego State University Campus this past week I became aware of the many different places that were claiming people. There was the Mediterranean garden that imbued a sense of quiet, reflection, and order – quite the opposite of what I have seen in Greece and Cyprus. The seating was arranged for small groups where they could work together or independently, for tables, and for a center fountain. As my guide explained this allows individuals to work independently or in small groups, or to just have time for reflection. There were a few of these places available on the campus – some secluded, in the sense that they were open and viewable, but not inviting to noise, large groups, or as play areas. They could only support a minority of the 30,000 plus students on campus. My guide suggested these were among her favorite spots on campus.

But where do the other multitude of students congregate and is it a “place” or is it just a “gathering spot?” I’m not sure I have the answer to this. The open spaces around the food courts appear to be gathering areas, the multiple seating areas along walk ways appear to be little used, the coffee shops are busy, but are they places.

Do universities actually strive to create senses of place, are the creation of ambience the same as a sense of place, does the nature of the university’s life support the notion of place or inhibit it?

A university is a frenetic place as students are passing between classes, but in between these moments of activity they almost become ghost towns. There are the few students who may be going to one place or another, or the faculty or staff member on their way to a meeting, but the time students stop to take advantage of the settings they are in – when does that occur. I don’t think that as those first rays of spring’s sunshine when all of the coeds lay out for that first tan count. Those are places that claim people.

As I think of my own campus I cannot picture a place that claims me. I am troubled by that thought. Thee are places in the community that give me a sense of place, but not like I have experienced in other locations. What prohibits me from gaining a sense of place? Is it because I am so busy I focus on my office or more importantly the tasks that come with the office? Is it because I see it as a place of work, not of leisure? Is it because I don’t take time to “smell the dandelions”? Is it because I’m too caught up in the rush of the world? Or is it a little bit of all of these.

February 23, 2006

Community . . .

Filed under: quality of life,sense of place,urban — by urban grandpa @ 10:57 am

I have spent the last couple of months engaged with the United Way in our community. This is my fifth year and for the first time I have moved beyond the panel level to the fund distribution committee leadership role. It has opened my eyes and allowed me to see things I have not seen before. I was looking at the tail of the elephant and for the first time I am seeing much more of that elephant. It is a staggering view. As I watch the process unfold I am becoming more and more aware of how we are failing those who have the greatest need at the expense of those who are interested only in themselves. I am convinced if most people could spend the few hours I have seeing how much good these many agencies perform, they too would give more of the their time and money. I believe in the good ness of people. The United Way works hard to help people to grow. It is the volunteers who sometimes growth the most.

I initially worte this last night as I was pondering not only community involvement but the general condition of humans and their inability to think in terms of having a greater concern for the welfare of all rather than just themselves. A Christian perspective suggests that we care for others. Many people do this, but I also see many examples of where caring for others is not of prime importance in a person’s life. The desire for wealth has negatively effected the quality of life not only in the United States, but worldwide. Just this morning I listened to an NPR short report about the high numbers of inidvidiuals who are going to food kitchens – they are not just the homeless, but those who are not, but cannot pay mortgages, utilities, rent and also feed themselves and their family. I don’t consider myself political, but I think the political leadership of this country is going the wrong way!

Go to the December issue of National Geographic and see the section on Global Aid: Hope in Hell. In a very forceful and touching way it focuses on what I have just talked about.

January 6, 2006

What is place?

Filed under: defining,sense of place — by urban grandpa @ 10:44 pm

Over the next few days I’m going to talk about different perspectives of place drawn from different authors, focusing mostly on academics, but also from some current and former writers who focused on sense of place and place making. I plan to start with John Brinckerhoff Jackson.

January 2, 2006

Narrative as Story Telling: A Place Called Home

Filed under: narrative,qualitative,research,sense of place,story telling,urban — by urban grandpa @ 4:14 pm

The December 20th edition of NPR’s Living on Earth is an excellent example of narrative use as story telling. As we consider a sense of place, home, is one of those places that draws us naturally to it. Having been raised in the military my family never had a home as I was growing up, at least not until my father retired and then I was already married and had a family. Yet going to visit my parents has always evoked a sense of home and a sense of place. The three stories included in the Living on Earth broadcast remind me of the power of the narrative in storytelling and the effect it has on each of us.


As a bonus author André Aciman talked about Ghost Places or places that continue to evoke special meaning. In the discussion following André’s story two inidivduals focused on the urban forest as individual places that were part of their ghost place.


I found great pleasure in listening to this segment and how the use of narrative so effectively evoked feelings and strengthened the concept of sense of place that a research article never could. I could talk about how narrative research would detract from the sense of these stories. I will save that for a later post.


As a side note, Living on Earth is available as a podcast from iTunes.

December 30, 2005

Sense of Place and Landscape

Filed under: qualitative,research,sense of place,urban — by urban grandpa @ 1:41 pm

This section was written for a grant some time ago and provies a foundation for our current research agenda. This should be viewed as a preliminary discussions and far from final.

Sense of Place

A sense of place is caught up in a landscape, be it natural or urban. Place has the ability to bring an emotional response from an individual. Sense of place is linked to meaning and permanence (McLean & Jensen, 2004a). The meanings of sense of place are multiple and dependent upon the researcher and discipline. Cheng, et al. (2003) state “Places have a way of claiming people. When they claim very diverse kinds of people, then those people must eventually learn to live with each other; they must learn to inhabit their place together . . .” (p. 119). Jackson (1994) argues that, “we recognize that certain localities have an attraction which gives us a certain indefinable sense of well-being and which we want to return to, time and again. (pp. 157–158) MacDonald (2002), speaking of the Brooklyn Parkways suggest, “They stand out as exceptional public spaces within an otherwise undistinguished urban street fabric because of the forest of trees they contain along their combined eight-mile length and the continuous open-space amenities they provide for the neighbourhoods they pass through” (p. 117).

Sense of place is a binding agent for community members. While each see place differently, there remains a commonality that cements community cohesion. Vaux and Olmsted saw the value of parkways and linked them to the evolution of community (Brooklyn Park Commission, 1868, pp 178-198) (as reported in MacDonald, 2002). Jiven & Larkin (2003) report, “Group identity is thus closely linked with the form and history of place, creating a sense of place or genius loci. . .” (p. 69).

Link to Landscape Preference

The urban forest is a landscape. Landscape preferences have long been studied by landscape architects and urban planners. Landscape preference is inexorably linked to sense of place and place meaning whether it be in an urban or natural environment. The principles and especially research methodology applied in one can be adapted to fit the other. Environmental researchers, however, have been less than enthusiastic about making the leap from the natural environment to the urban environment. There are some notable exceptions (Norwegians here).

Jackson (1980, p. 16) and reported in Stokowski (2002) stated, “This is how we should think of landscapes: not merely how they look, how they conform to an esthetic ideal, but how they satisfy elemental needs.… A landscape should establish bonds between people, the bond of language, of manners, of … work and leisure, and above all a landscape should contain the kind of spatial organizations which foster such experiences and relationships…. “Dakin (2003) states, “People are not mere viewers of landscape: they participate in a way that influences their understanding” (p. 190).

History of Measures

What we really don’t understand is how the urban forest contributes to an urban resident’s sense of place. Urban areas have been managed largely in their ability to contribute to the economic well-being of the community. In many cases the economic well-being did not take into account biophysical well-being, environmental well-being, or community social well-being. If none of these were taken into account it is only a short leap to suggest that the urban forest received no greater consideration. Williams and Stewart (1998) believe, “that by putting the human bond with nature in the foreground, rather than treating it as an interesting but insignificant feature of the background for . . . planning, managers can begin to give the relationship between people and the land the careful, systematic attention it requires and deserves” (p. 22).

The preponderance of research on sense of place has been empirical. Shanahan, et al. (1999) argue, “a fundamental univariate approach to measuring . . . may not suffice to describe the complexity of . . . belief” (p. 406). The move towards more qualitative approaches to the measurement perception and belief has been growing over the last 20 years and especially in the last 10 years. The development of more refined qualitative approaches, and the linking of qualitative and empirical research methodologies have refined researchers abilities to measure Shanahan’s complexity of belief.

This research, then, will focus on (1) objective qualities of the urban forest, and simultaneously (2) the social construction of place as it relates to the urban forest. The last portion of Stokowski’s (2002) paper may state it best when she says, “‘Ah,’ … ‘my mountains!’ That sentiment is not unusual. We each have attachments to certain physical qualities of natural, historic and cultural places. But until we recognize that we can and do make ‘my mountains’ into ‘our mountains’ through shared language, stories, myths, images, and behavior, we will not enjoy scholarly or practical senses of place that sustain our quests to be more closely connected with each other and with all our desired environments” (p. 380-381).

Monuments and People

Filed under: monument,sense of place,urban — by urban grandpa @ 9:50 am

Last summer I had the opportunity to spend a few hours in London between flights and took the time to go to Hyde Park. While there I had my first, and so far only, experience with the Princess Diana Fountain. At the time I was unaware of the controversy surrounding the memorial. Instead, I found myself impressed with the design, nature, and use of the fountain.
I have visited many monuments over the years and there are several that stand out to me. There are many more that are lost in the milleau of time and experience. One of the common features of monuments is the desire to reinforce the importance of the individual and her or his contributions. Memorials to individuals such as Thomas Jefferson or Franklin D. Roosevelt are static, fixed in time and space, and range from small to large. Their importance is to provide recognition to the individual for contributions to society and to help secure their place in history. They are places for viewing, often supported with visitor centers, but not really places for people.

The simplicity of the Kennedy eternal flame is beautiful and its setting in Arlington National Cemetery creates a sense of reverence. In the few times I have been to this site I find other visitors in a quiet, contemplative mood.

The Iwo Jima Marine Corp monument has less of a sense of reverence or wonder. It stands at a busy intersection. When the Marine Corps Drum and Bugle Corps plays on Thursday afternoons in the summer it draws its largest crowd, but to view the drum and bugle corp, not the monument. From a personal perspective, I gain a sense of sacrifice when I view it. That sacrifice comes not from the monument, but from the knowledge that my father was among the first wave of Marines at Iwo Jima. A monument, then, may have individual impact for some and none for others.
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A sense of sacrifice is more prevalent at the Viet Nam Memorial. Yet, even this sense of sacrifice may be limited to one or two generations. The presence and design of the memorial will have an impact for generations, as has the Washington Monument, but will it become another part of a tourist checklist rather than a focus of a time that changed American for ever?

In the context of such types of experiences with monuments, I found myself greatly surprised as I discovered the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fountain. My first impressions were of a temporary fence to control entrance to the site, of a ranger present to control actions at the monument, and of lots of people. I began to take photos and spent time walking the circumference of the memorial.

As I wandered around the fountain’s furthest point from the entrance I became aware of something I did not expect to see. I realized from my vantage point I was at the high point of the monument. I could see everyone else at the monument with almost no movement of my head. I had a panoramic view! Then I discovered I was the only single person present. Monuments located in parks frequently have single visitors, but that wasn’t apparent here. Rather there were groups of friends and families.

At a small bridge I saw a father place his camera on the grass, preset to shoot, and gather with his wife and children for a photo to commemorate their presence. Closer to the entrance I viewed groups of people composed of friends, families, and extended families. They seemed to be sitting on the walls of the monument watching the water flow by, or dangling their feet in the water. It was a cool, but sunny June day in London. On first observation one might conclude that it was groups of singles and couples, but on closer observation it became clear most groups were 3 or larger (mostly larger) and they were in no hurry to leave. As I continued to observe I saw considerable interaction occurring. People were drawn by the monument. It provided a sense of place for park visitors and for those who came specifically for the monument.

I saw the monument as a gathering place, as a place where people can enjoy themselves. I saw people taking time out of their lives to stop, visit, reflect, walk away from their daily requirements. It can and probably is also a place for individuals, but the short time I spent there was a time for families, friends, and groupings.

The BBC shared insights from the designer as well as provided a description of the site:


One side of the fountain will see water bubbling down a gentle slope, while the other stream will tumble and cascade before both paths flow into a tranquil pool.
Gustafson said the contrasting halves would reflect the different parts of the princess’s life – the joyous times but also the turmoil she experienced.
Gustafson said, “The concept is based upon the qualities of the Princess that were the most loved and cherished… inclusiveness and accessibility”
“The fountain also reflects parts of the Princess’s life – on one side the water bubbles and effervesces down a gentle slope, whereas on the other side it tumbles down, cascades, then ‘rocks and rolls’ from side to side in a joyous way, before turning over on itself, perhaps representing the turmoil in her life.
“Both sides finally flow into a tranquil, peaceful, calm pool.”

In a society where speed, power, individual focus, and a certain level of ruthlessness seem to be honored, it is nice to see a monument that focuses on the human side and invites individuals to return to a sense of humanity, a sense of eternal purpose, a focus on doing and giving rather than collecting and hoarding. The monument’s benefactors and landscape architect are to be congratulated for creating a monument that is so human and draws people to pause and reflect.

Additional sites related to the Memorial Fountain


The Royal Family
The Royal Parks

December 29, 2005

Thinking about the Urban Environment

Filed under: thoughts,urban — by urban grandpa @ 10:14 pm

There are many blogs focusing on the urban environment, more than a few focusing on the big picture, but there are few interested in either the impact of parks and recreation or of the urban forest. The interest is based on 30 plus years of research and observation. Brought to this is are ongoing publishing efforts focusing on planning, impact, benefits, and futures. At points discussions will be made linking the past to the future.


Definitions are important in any discussion and while they may not always be apparent, or worse, taken for granted, they should not be. Future discussions will focus on various definitions, impacts upon us as users and viewers.


In a sense, this site will be a journal for my readings, musings and research. Some of your feedback will be important. It will cause me to think in in directions I may not have intended. The site is not intended as a source of controversy. However, controversy, is typically designed from the perspective of the beholder and not of the writer.


So by now you may ask yourself, what is this all about and who is listening and writing? There are no easy answers and like many blogs this site will focus on multiple issues. Bear with me and share alike.

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