From sandpiles to skating

In 1885 "a large sandpile was placed in the yards of the Children’s Mission on Parmenter Street in Boston through the efforts of the Massachusetts Emergency and Hygiene Association. Here an average of fifteen connected with the chapel came three days a week though July and August to dig in the sand, sing songs and do their drills under the guidance of the matron provided."

That sand pile and directed activities was the beginning of the recreation movement in the US. Within four years Boston had established another 20 playgrounds of the same type.

Its important to note that it was the Emergency and Hygiene Association that founded and ran the playground. Not coincidentally, this was the same time period where people were realizing that child labor and the rise of factories were posing serious threats to the health and wellbeing of America's children...and that something needed to be done about it.

As is often the case, it was philanthropy that drove the creation of playgrounds and recreational opportunities.

In 1893 two playgrounds were created in Philadelphia thanks to the patronage of concerned citizens. two years later, public pressure led the city to pledge $1,000 to the upkeep of playgrounds within the city limits.

The movement grew and soon cities across the country were following suit.

In 1898 the New York School Committee took on the responsibilities of the Association for Improving the Condition of the Poor, and founded twenty playgrounds at their schools.

If you look at the histories of Denver, Cleveland, Minneapolis, Chicago, Baltimore, Brooklyn and many others you see that nonprofits were often at the forefront of creating, running and maintaining children's recreation - both in playgrounds and activites like baseball, tennis and the like. The reason why is simple: keeping children active and engaged was seen as necessary for the betterment of society. It led to happier, healthier and smarter children....who grew into happier, healthier and smarter adults.

By 1905 the responsibility for maintaing outdoor spaces had mainly shifted to the various governments, with Chicago voting to tax itself $10,000,000 for park playgrounds support - at the time an astronomical and completely unheard of amount that Theodore Roosevelt called "the most notable civic achievement of any American city."

Since that time, the belief has almost come full circle...from the almost implicit understanding that parks and recreation are the perview of government because of the greater good the expense brings, to the belief that parks and recreation departments should be profit centers, making money for the municipality.

The truth is, though, that parks and recreation is still vital to the health (both physical and mental) of any community and that the people who are most in need of access to public recreational activities are the least able to pay the full cost.

Which is why the Spokane Parks Foundation exists - to help underwrite those costs whenever possible. Because we firmly believe that providing resources for vibrant, healthy and accessible park and recreation programs - whether those are sandboxes or skating rinks - is vital to the community.

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