Among the many influences the contribute to the quality of life in a community, consider two impactful ones which are often taken for granted, under-appreciated, or not fully understood.
“This is particularly true in smaller communities with sparse options for public engagement. Services sponsored by parks, recreation departments, and public libraries play an important role in improving lives. Obvious health benefits of physical activity and social engagement are featured in many online positive aging and longevity videos.
Since Andrew Carnegie’s day, servicing the entire community has been part of public consciousness and urban planning. Have you ever considered how parks, recreation facilities, and public libraries actually benefit you and your community?
An Eastern Kentucky University’s Recreation and Parks Administration Program study referencing that Center for Disease Control and Penn State University data claims that creating, improving, and promoting places for folks to be physically active improves individual health by 25 percent for those who exercise at least three times per week.
The Penn State study further concluded that by visiting a park and the length of time spent there correlates significantly to stress reduction, lowering blood pressure, and increasing feelings of physical well-being.
Parks, public places of social significance, are gathering places for families, social groups, and individuals of all ages and economic status. Many parks, although not all, are accessible to persons of advanced age or disability. Parks positively influence lifestyle risk factors: crimes such as vandalism, juvenile delinquency, particularly in neighborhoods where residents support them. Parks impact local economies, improve local tax bases, and increase property values simply because of their location and amenities available nearby. This fact is particularly important for communities planning to entice new business.
A number of studies have determined what motivates business owners to consider relocating their businesses to one community versus another. Most cite parks and recreation as one of their top three relocation reasons. Many people contend that quality parks and recreation facilities stimulate public pride and community cohesion, at least in neighborhoods fortunate enough to have them.
Equally impactful to the quality of life of communities are public libraries.
Traditionally libraries have been viewed as a place that collects books and makes them available to the general public. Today, the modern library has become an integral part of everyday life for many, offering a multi-faceted resource and opportunities to connect people to the world, their community, and to one another. They’ve become the gathering place for classes, exhibitions, talks, special events, movies, and much more. Through a philosophy of continuous education, individuals get the chance to pursue interests or simply to learn something new, in a friendly, informal, comfortable setting.
Despite being primarily focused on attracting people to the library, many libraries also try to reach the broader community. Through bookmobiles and online services, libraries are made accessible to others who may be isolated, alone, or unable to travel. The goal is to reach and serve the entire community by ensuring that everyone is able to enjoy library benefits. The ability to get together with others is a precious component of successful community life, a way that increases peoples’ confidence and self-esteem.
The findings bear this out. According to a 2013 Pew Research Center survey, Americans strongly value and appreciate public libraries’ role within their communities. Libraries provide access to materials and resources, promote literacy, and improve the overall quality of life for all.
90% of Americans ages 16+ said that the closing of their local public library would have a negative impact on their community. 63% said it would have a major impact. The survey cited the overwhelmingly positive feelings they have for libraries as a quiet, safe place to spend time, read, or study, with librarians to help find information.
Surprise! Most Americans know where their local library is but are unfamiliar with all the adjunct services. If you’re one of them, you may want to take a second look. What you discover may surprise you.