Accessible Recreation

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By Heather Sansom, NCCP sport coach

I am writing in response to the interesting article I saw in this week’s paper (December 9) about the Southgate Church outdoor rink. I had actually heard about this rink last year, accidentally, because I am connected on Facebook with some people that attend that church. Then I learned from a report about council meeting proceedings that money had been awarded to it from the municipality.

Before the money was awarded to the church, I don’t think anyone in the community was even asked where a good location for a rink would be. I also noted that even if people knew about the rink, it is only accessible to families over a certain income, because it can only be reached by car. The distance of the rink from the downtown is just far enough that walking or cycling are both unsafe and impractical. Low income and single parent families may only have one car or none at all.

That is why almost 40%-60% of families in counties like ours cannot facilitate their kids’ access to recreational activities after school if the activity is dependent on a car. Placing recreational facilities in a location that assumes a two car, two parent family places the facility out of reach of a large portion of the population, but especially out of reach of the population that needs access to well being resources the most.

I had been wondering for some time why there are no outdoor rinks in Kemptville which would be accessible to families of all income levels. So I inquired. There used to be. The Lions used to maintain one.  Like many towns, the trend in recent decades in Canada has been to replace access to healthy active recreation for all incomes, with recreation that only those who can pay can afford. This trend is commonly and openly discussed in sport and recreation conferences and leading publications, since it is linked to the reasons why low income is considered a determinant of poor health. Simply put, the ‘pay to play’ mentality restricts health and wellbeing to the privileged few. There are ample reports published nationally showing that the ‘pay to play’ approach to sport and recreation in Canada has left the majority of the population at a health disadvantage.
So I am an advocate of infrastructure that makes recreation accessible to all in Kemptville. Despite the shiny advertising to attract urban developers and city dwellers out here, a very large percentage of Kemptville and North Grenville residents do not have means for pay-to-play activities. Most families that can afford public skate times at the municipal centre, for example, have no idea that the fee for a family of four to skate is just out of the range for many families.
Families are lacking resources in Kemptville where they can recreate together. Even if a parent or both parents are missing, inter-generational, inter-gender recreation creates a  healthy atmosphere where youth lacking adult role models can potentially find mentors, or at least be exposed to role modelling and community that replaces gaps.

Now I’m really dreaming, but wouldn’t it be nice if decisions about recreation were not made behind closed doors by healthy males with middle class incomes. Wouldn’t it be nice if there was a recreation committee which was composed of people from all income brackets, ages, gender and ability/disability in Kemptville, and which could be consulted and included in all aspects of recreational infrastructure planning. If there were such a committee, then investments in recreational infrastructure would meet the needs of the community, and not just the needs of the privileged few. There are many low-hanging, low cost fruits so to speak that would improve access in our community. Access for pedestrians to Ferguson Forest is one example. But if there were a committee, then decisions could be made which consider the whole.

The fact, widely acknowledged in Public Health and studies on recreational spending, is that spending on infrastructure that promotes free and informal activity for all income levels is the best investment in health communities, and reduction of health-care costs. The sad truth is that the people who benefit the most from community recreational assets, are the people least likely to be at municipal meetings, come up with proposals, or write letters to councillors or newspapers..or even read the newspaper, because these are habits of education and relative wealth. To get the people who are served by services on to committees, and to hear what they need and how a service will best be accessible to them, you need to intentionally find them and invite them to participate, and share information with them in a way which is accessible. I realize there is a webpage (also that hardly anyone knows about) for town feedback. But the lack of feedback and lack of numbers on there clearly indicates that, at the moment, it would be a joke to say that it meets the criteria of soliciting community need and feedback. It would be revolutionary for Kemptville, but not for a good marketing company, to actually go and ask various populations how they get their information, and then building communication strategies that are low cost and actually get information to the population.

It’s really too bad if a rink is not put in the Riverside Park where it is so easy for kids to go on foot. The park is a hub of intergeneration multi-activity, making it a very safe place for kids and families to do hang-out sports. Whoever plans these improvements on the other side of the highway might as well post a sign on them saying ‘privileged only’ because a large portion of the population doesn’t know about them, and couldn’t access them if they did. We have to stop planning by assuming a two parent, two car household over 80K in income, and start considering a family with no car, living below the poverty line. When we have recreation for all, it will be a healthier community for all: a more walkable, more enjoyable, safer community. We don’t need to repeat the bad planning errors of suburbs like Kanata and Barrhaven.

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