In “Recreation as a Public Function in Urban Communities” by Addams,what are the social and political benefits of public recreation centers? What is the relationship between recreation centers and citizenship? Why do cities like Chicago need to support public recreation centers? What problems will they solve? What conditions will they address?
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Addams identifies different social and political benefits to public recreation centers. One of the most distinct social benefits to public recreation centers is that it provides a viable avenue for children and young people to pursue. As opposed to being "on the streets" and thus susceptible to the dangers of the urban setting, Addams suggest that society benefits when young people have the opportunities and outlets offered through recreation centers:
The business of the superintendent of the recreation center is to see that each gang of boys is fairly treated, that the "liberty of each is limited by the like liberty of all"‑to use an old Spencerian phrase. The boy who is admired is not he who can secure secret favors, but the one who can best meet those standards which boys maintain of running, climbing, turning, etc. They may seem like absurd standards to the adult, but they are at least universal standards, with the competition open to all and dependent upon personal prowess. The leader of the gang may or may not shine on the athletic field, and the boys who are there learn to resist exploitation...
All levels of society can experience the social benefit to reducing exploitation. Addams also suggests that a decrease in crime becomes another distinct social benefit: "Certainly the number of arrests among juvenile delinquents falls off surprisingly in a neighborhood where such a park has been established‑a negative measure, possibly, but one which cannot be disregarded."
On the political side, Addams suggests that the recreation center creates a locus for civic activism. In her analysis, she hearkens back to the Greek polis, the idea of a geographical center in which politics can be openly debated and discussed in a face to face forum. Addams sees this convergent point as a critical element within the establishment of recreation centers as part of American diversified, urban life: "In the play festivals of Chicago sustained in the various small parks, the Italians, Poles, Lithuanians, and Norwegians meet each other with a dignity and freedom, with a sense of comradeship, which they are unable to command at any other time." The centrality of life in the recreation centers enables it to be a critical political benefit to American urban settings.
Addams sees recreation as containing a critical connection to citizenship. For Addams, the problem with the urban political machine is that it depends on dingy and poorly lit conditions to operate. Addams suggests that politicians who are part of "the machine" are able to operate in the shadows of a city, something defeated through the establishment of the public recreation center setting: "A group of boys will not continue to stand upon the street corners and to seek illicit pleasures in alleys and poolrooms when all the fascinating apparatus of a recreation field is at their disposal." This transformation in which young people and older ones have an avenue apart from the machine is reflective of how democracy is enhanced with recreation centers. People have more choices, something that Addams sees as the basis of citizenship.
The improvement of the quality of life becomes the overall message behind Addams' advocacy. She believes that the power of the recreation centers to transform individual belief in what can be done is where the ultimate value of the recreation center lies. The problems that plague modern cities can be alleviated with the presence of the recreation center.
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