Municipal Recreation Centers: The New Community Center

by Kathy Russell, ALSC Architects

Traditionally, municipal community centers served the public with social services, meeting spaces and a place for classes. Amenities offered at city owned facilities have increased in the past decade to offer many more activities such indoor and outdoor sports facilities, water parks, rock climbing, specialized fitness classes like TRX and multi-generational activity areas. Municipalities have started to recognize the popularity and attraction of recreation centers and the benefits for their communities.

Communities That Play Together Stay Together

Cindy Curtis, the Virginia Beach Deputy City Manager, says parks and recreation centers “are the core part of the fabric of the community”. By offering services and activities for a variety of patrons, the center brings together people that may not otherwise have reason to interact. It gives families and kids a place to hang out rather than being isolated, bored and alone at home. At the same time, parents may be able to exercise. Teens may find a place to belong and be challenged. Rec centers have become popular with active retirees; all giving communities the opportunity to bring their various residents together in play.

Economic Value of Recreation Centers

Communities that have strong parks and recreation facilities are known to have better property values which, in turn, helps with tax revenue. Communities can also help attract talented workers, affluent retirees, promote home ownership and increase revenue for their city with strong recreation facilities. Tourism can be promoted and marketed by offering space for sports tournaments or water parks with unique amenities. Not only does the City of Moses Lake, WA, market and brand their Surf ‘n Slide Water Park as a tourism attraction, but so does Grant County, tourist groups like AAA and regional hotels.

Providing Cities An Identity

Not every community has a Space Needle or a Clock Tower to serve as a symbol for their city. Creating a well-designed rec center with dramatic features can give a community the distinctiveness it may be lacking. A center with thoughtful and dynamic design can double as a gathering place as well as the brand for a community. It can be the heart of the community by creating a sense of place and instilling civic pride.

Cited Material

Parks and Recreation Centers Bring Communities Together; South Source, a Publication of South University
How Cities Use Parks for Economic Development; by Megan Lewis, AICP, Assistant Director of The City Parks Forum
How Cities Use Parks to Promote Tourism; by John L. Crompton, Distinguished Professor of Recreation, Park and Tourism Sciences at Texas A&M University

Kathy Russell is a Project Architect with ALSC Architects and a registered Architect in Washington and Montana, with over 20 years in the industry. She has written articles for SF Gate, and EHow as an architectural expert, and also has her own blog focused on teaching kids about architecture.

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