I’m always happy to see kids playing outside at recess when I go past a grade school, especially if they are in unstructured play. I’m a bit surprised school districts still do recess, since there is no Standardized Test for Recess Skills and no alarm going out that we’re in danger of losing out to other countries in Recess Innovations. I’m glad that school districts recognize that kids need to burn off their excess energy, they need to let their mind wander, they need a time for play, they need a time where they get to make some of the rules.
But it’s not just kids that need recess. So do you adults. Psychologists warn us that we cannot keep our focus for hour after hour at work. We need breaks. We need to stop taking lunch at our desks. We need to get up and move, get up and let our mind appropriately wander on a break (so it doesn’t at work).
When city planners are thinking of placemaking, they can think of recess for adults. What kind of places could there be near offices and other work locations so that workers could take a quick walk? Or a place to take their lunch? Ideally, such places would be tied to the unique and special features of the place – a view of the river, a park with a native plants garden, a historical or cultural feature – and would offer a chance for people to interact with each other and the place.
Recess is a spontaneous break in the day. No special planning is required. We need places for that. In grade school, we also took field trips (do they still do that?). Field trips require a bit more planning, they need to be scheduled and perhaps require some special gear. By analogy, places for ‘field trip for adults and families’ are where one could, say, go kayaking in the river or riding a bike along the river right in town after work or for a few hours on a weekend (i.e., without taking up the whole day). Adults need to remember how field trips made a nice break in the school routine (and a good way to learn something new) and plan some field trips for themselves for just a few hours. Otherwise, we put off our fun for a major vacation that may or may not happen and we don’t get to know our place as well as we should.
Yes, take the great vacation to some other place, learn about the world outside your place, but don’t forget to go on recess and field trips in your own place.
When I see the commercials for resorts, cruises, theme parks and other components of the vacation industry, I can’t help but wonder whether we’ve gotten to the point that we pay others to do so much for us that we also must pay others to make us have fun. Can placemaking be about do-it-yourself, everyday fun? Can we make family memories inexpensively, right in our own place?