In the past I’ve heaped praise on the Town of Oakville for having both the foresight and the guts to ensure natural green spaces and parks are included in any development plan. That’s why I’m so confused by the recently approved North Park Project reported in the Beaver the other day.
The NP Project is meant to address the growing demand in the community for recreational facilities. Ice rinks, soccer fields, tennis courts, baseball diamonds, etc. These things are great, but why do we really need them in the first place? All of these facilities are meant for organized and structured activities. Where are all the supports for kids who just want to play?
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not suggesting that hockey, basketball, swimming and soccer are bad things. My own children are actively involved, or soon will be, in most of these fun activities. Like all parents, I hope they have access to the facilities they need to participate comfortably and safely. These plans will certainly provide for that. But, I wonder if we really need four new ice rinks? Do we really need eight new soccer pitches?
Imagine for a moment that we didn’t feel the pressure to program every moment of our kids’ lives. Instead of spending every Saturday going from gymnastics to soccer in the morning and then from ballet to swimming in the afternoon, we simply let our kids go out to play with their friends from next door? What would our lives be like?
I believe that things would be vastly improved on a number of levels. Instead of standing on the sidelines watching our kids, we’d be able to spend more time actually interacting with them. Instead of hurrying from one activity to another, we’d be able to put our feet up and read the weekend newspaper. We and our kids would be far less stressed – and that translates to being happier.
A selfish idea? Not really. Think beyond the personal aspects and consider the impact on the community. If instead of four structured activities each week, you dragged your kids off to just two. What if everyone else did the same? Admittedly, I’m no expert at math, but in general that would reduce the demand for new facilities by about half. With the estimated cost of Phase 1 of the North Park project is $63 million, taxpayers could save a significant amount in capital costs and even more on long-term maintenance. If our kids spent more in unstructured play, it would reduce the demand and perhaps even eliminate the need for all these new facilities to begin with.
I leave it to you to decide what we’d do as a community with the extra resources. Invest in more social services? Fix the potholes in the streets. Set aside more natural green spaces? Keep the money in our pockets? The possibilities are endless when you use your imagination. And what better way to develop imagination than plain old fashioned unstructured play.