Council received the wrap up on a multi-month consulting project on recreation and recreational facilities in the region Apr. 9. The 122-page Regional Recreation Facilities Master Plan is a tough slog to read through, one of those documents that is full of consultant speak (foster, engage, sustainable, blah, blah, blah) and the obligatory multi-coloured word cloud.
But despite a lot of fill, it does encapsulate the findings of several open houses and an online survey. Sadly, only 325 participants took the survey out of a regional population of about 36,000. Morinville’s participation dominated the thing at 38 per cent; Bon Accord and Red Water accounted for but 8 per cent of participants each. Other interesting tidbits are that 72 per cent of survey participants were female and 56 per cent were aged 30 to 49.
The survey revealed that the top ranked recreational activities in the region were from top to bottom: community gatherings, being a spectator at special events, gardening, playground activities, fitness classes, and swimming. In Morinville the cultural centre topped the list of used facilities with a 64 per cent rating. The splash park received a 54 per cent usage rating, and the hockey arena 53 per cent.
The fundamental problem with these types of projects is while it is valuable in determining what facilities are available and what the life expectancy of each is, the data on what people want is limited to the participants, and participants are limited for a number of reasons, including apathy, apathy and a great sense of apathy.
When nearly three quarters of survey participants are women, it is a different result than if it were split equally between the genders. Likewise when more than half of the participants are between the ages of 30 and 49, the result will be based on the worldview of that demographic. Do we then really get a picture on what seniors need if few seniors participate? If only community gardeners took the survey and the soccer players stayed home, we could find the data telling us we ought to rip up the dormant soccer fields and plant more rows of carrots and beets.
To what extent the data will ultimately shape the face of recreation in the region over the next quarter century remains to be seen. If nothing else, the 122-page report contains some guidelines for cost sharing possibilities between the municipalities within Sturgeon County and Sturgeon County itself. If everyone can play ball on funding, the rest will be determined by some future open house few will attend or participate in.