In celebration of the BCRPA's 60th Anniversary, HCMA Principal Paul Fast has written 'Spaces Between: Re-examining the role of community recreation facilities' for the Spring-Summer issue of Recreation & Parks BC. Read the magazine online here. 

Buildings should reflect who we are. Looking back on 60 years of BCRPA history affords us an opportunity to both reflect back and look forward on the role of recreation in our society. Over this time period the philosophy of recreation has evolved significantly. How well have our buildings reflected this change?

Previous generations defined community recreation predominately by the label of “sport”, or a pursuit that required physical activity, and the buildings designed during this era certainly reflected this attitude. Designed as simple, mostly stand-alone “boxes”, they were focused predominately on the provision of physical infrastructure for a single use sport. The primary goal was getting people in and out of the building as efficiently as possible and providing them with a high- quality sports experience along the way. Considerations around accessibility and inclusion were either not well understood or weren’t highly prioritized. These older buildings placed little value on the provision of natural light, fresh air and views – they were literally, dark boxes.

Today we subscribe to a much broader, more holistic view of recreation. The Framework for Recreation in Canada authored by the CPRA provides the following definition: “Recreation is the experience that results from freely chosen participation in physical, social, intellectual, creative and spiritual pursuits that enhance individual and community wellbeing”.

What does this mean for the future of our recreation facilities? Activity spaces, the “boxes”, continue to evolve as they adapt to changing community preferences, needs and technical requirements. The change needed however, goes far beyond this evolution. A collective shift in how we plan, operate and design our buildings is needed to embrace a holistic approach and to overlay this broader mandate. In particular, we need to acknowledge the social role of recreation and design accordingly. It’s not only about participating in physical or cultural activities, but the connections made before, during and after that help build social capacity and resilience. It is the conversations held with a stranger while watching a game, the coffee shared between neighbours, or the mentorship provided to someone learning a new skill that forms this social capacity. While these encounters certainly also take place within the traditional sports box, they are more likely to take place in the spaces between, spaces that are designed with this social mandate in mind.

Over the last year I’ve been working with a community in the Kootenays to envision the future of their aging building. In this building, the seniors have taken over one of the main corridors (the “in-between” spaces) for an informal floor-curling bonspiel. Kids sit on benches watching them, and any visitor that previously wasn’t aware of floor curling as a sport certainly is now. What started out as a pragmatic solution to a space challenge has turned into an opportunity for intergenerational gathering, recruitment and social engagement.

If we really believe that recreation can be more than just physical activity, then we have to start investing in the spaces between the boxes, we have to start recognizing the importance of spaces that embrace connection to nature, accessibility, equity and social connection as their core values. We have to start applying effort, resources and intention to imagining spaces that will support this broader mandate. This is after all, where the magic happens!