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Standards for Outdoor Recreational Areas 2022-join now

Standards for Outdoor Recreational Areas 2022 Recreation and recreational standards have long been the subject of much discussion and controversy, extending so far as to question the value of standards as a measure of our recreational needs. This report hopefully will indicate that standards are necessary, not to the extent that they become hard and fast rules, but rather as a point from which one may begin.

It is not easy to define whether or not an area is “adequate,” yet recreation specialists have come up with certain rough rules which are often used; one standard, for example, is that a city should have one acre of city park or playground per 100 population, plus another acre of large city or regional park on the outskirts of the city for more extensive types of recreational use. Even this amount of recreational space is not adequate unless the separate tracts are located according to need, and unless they are well planned, well developed, and well managed.

As far back as 1914 Charles Downing Lay, at that time landscape architect for the New York State Department of Parks, estimated the park needs of a city of 100,000 people to be:

Recreational UsesArea
Reservations700 acres
1 large city park400 acres
10 neighborhood parks250 acres
50 playgrounds100 acres
Gardens and squares50 acres
Total1,500 acres
Standards for Outdoor Recreational Areas 2022

He assumed that 12-1/2 per cent of the total area of the city should be devoted to parks. This meant that a city of 12,000 acres should have 1,500 acres of parks. For a city of 100,000 it meant an average population density of 8-1/3 persons per acre of city and an allowance of one acre of park space to 66-2/3 people.

Standards for Outdoor Recreational Areas 2022

In 1940, about one-quarter of all cities having park facilities met the standard of one acre per 100 population; some cities exceeded this standard considerably. Since 1940, the relationship between park and recreation area and total population has been a less happy one. Recreational area within the legal boundaries of the larger cities has expanded as population has grown, but, when the population of the surrounding suburbs has been added to that of the central city, the available park area has lagged seriously.

The suburbs of a great many urban areas have failed to add park land to meet their own needs, and have tried to rely on the older parks of the central city. In 1956, the total area of the city and county parks was about three-quarter million acres; an adequate area by the above standards would have been two million acres.2

It has been suggested, however, that the general rule be modified, especially for densely populated cities. In many cases, it is economically impossible to attain such standards. It has been suggested in a report, Proposed Standards for Recreational Facilities, prepared by the Detroit Metropolitan Area Planning Commission (September 1959), that one acre per 200 population is a reasonable standard in cities with populations over 500,000, and perhaps one acre per 300 population for cities over a million inhabitants.

It should be pointed out that developing recreational facilities on the fringe of the city would help meet the recognized deficiency in the larger cities. This variation from the general standard has been adopted in Cleveland, for example, where the city planning commission has sought a standard of one acre per 200 population. Standards for Outdoor Recreational Areas 2022 Standards for Outdoor Recreational Areas 2022 Standards for Outdoor Recreational Areas 2022 Standards for Outdoor Recreational Areas 2022

While most cities have recognized the standard of one acre of recreation land per 100 population, there has been much diversity of opinion concerning total open space requirements. Attempts have been made to establish the percentage of recreation space needed in relation to the area of the city. It has been stated that at least one-tenth of the city’s acreage should be used for recreation. This type of standard cannot be completely satisfactory, however, since it does not take into consideration the population density. No rigid formula can be prescribed; all specific standards and recommendations are subject to variations, conditions, and peculiarities of the area surrounding the recreational facility. vStandards for Outdoor Recreational Areas 2022 Standards for Outdoor Recreational Areas 2022

Recreational standards are affected by the cultural background, age, and socio-economic status of the population, and these factors should be carefully studied to determine whether modification of any set of recommended standards is desirable. Standards should never be blindly adopted without considering modifications since they are predicated on a theoretically typical city that does not exist. The standards in this report should be taken as a point of departure and, as such, they can offer a basis for the intelligent development of local plans. Standards also need to be appraised from time to time, with the idea of adjusting them whenever changing conditions make modifications necessary. The investment in recreation facilities can be, and has been, wasted because local customs and preferences were not given sufficient consideration.

To a limited extent, the type of recreation facilities to be provided will depend upon the degree to which community needs may be met by private facilities or within residences. For example, in many suburban areas, the size of residential lots and living areas is such that there is little need for a neighborhood playlot. On the other hand, in a low-income, high-population density neighborhood where living space is at a premium, playlots become extremely important.

There is general agreement among city planners and recreation authorities that 30 to 50 per cent of the total park and recreation land of a community should be set aside for active recreation.3 Based on the recommended standard of one acre per 100 population, it has also been stated that from 25 to 50 per cent of the total space should be developed for neighborhood use, with the remaining acreage in community, city-wide, or regional facilities.

In comparing recreation standards, it should be kept in mind that those suggested by the National Recreation Association are probably most applicable to smaller cities, rather than to the more densely populated urban centers. As shown in the samples given in Table 1, published standards for municipal recreation have ranged from four acres per 1,000 population to the 10 acres per 1,000 suggested by the NRA.

Table 1


 Standards in Acres Per 1,000 Population
Type of Recreation AreaN.R.A.Seattle, WashingtonRoyal Oak, MichigancDetroit, Michiganf
(Active rec.)    
(Total active rec.)2.502.502.881.5
(Passive rec.)    
    Minor parks2.501.251.54d. . .g
    Major parks5.002.505.74e2.6
(Total passive rec.)7.503.757.282.7
All types of municipal recreation10.00a6.25b10.16a4.1

Source — Report on Recreation Standards, 1954; Detroit Metropolitan Area Regional Planning Commission.

a. In addition to the 10 acres of recreation per 1,000 of the population of the municipality, there should be, for each 1,000 people in the region, 10 acres of park land in stream valley parks and parkways, large scenic parks and forest preserves under municipal, county, state, federal or other authorities.

b. In addition to the recreation acreage within the urban area there should be at least 10 acres of reservation or recreational area left in their natural state for each 1,000 persons.

c. This recreation study was completed in April of 1954 by the NRA. Figures based on the ultimate population of Royal Oak as being 85,000.

d. Parks of 20 acres or less in size.

e. Parks of over 20 acres in size.

f. The Detroit City Plan Commission in a master plan report published in 1947 gave the proposed recreation in the city of Detroit based on the population of 1,800,000.

g. Did not have figure for minor parks. Not included, however, is 0.1 acres per 1,000 population which includes greenbelt, park department nurseries, and yards, and barns for equipment located in parks.

In long-range developments, priority should be given to planning recreation areas for neighborhood use in connection with elementary schools. Special attention should be given to subdivisions at the time they are reviewed by the planning agency in order to guarantee that adequate space is set aside to serve the neighborhood park and recreation needs. If the opportunity is missed at this point it is probably lost forever.

The modern municipal park and recreation system is composed of properties that differ in function, size, location, service area, and development. Generally, these recreation areas are divided into three groups based on the areas that they serve: those that serve one neighborhood, which would include playlots, playgrounds, and neighborhood parks; those which serve several neighborhoods or the so-called “community” in the large city, which would take in playfields and community parks; and those that serve a very large section of the city, or even the entire metropolitan area. These latter include parkways, major parks, reservations, regional parks, and highly specialized facilities, rather than multiple use developments.

Because of the vast size of the subject, emphasis in this report is given to standards for recreational areas — minimum and maximum space requirements, location of recreational facilities and size of population served, the types of facilities required for various recreational areas, and what age groups can be expected to be served by these facilities. There has been no attempt to include standards of design for outdoor recreational facilities, though it is recognized that such standards are of the utmost importance. For this reason, sources for design standards have been included in the bibliography. Also, the scope of this report has not permitted consideration of sociological factors, such as the economic and cultural composition of the population to be served.

The first part of this report deals with the various areas to be served; the second part includes standards for a few specialized facilities that might be located in various recreational areas.

Neighborhood Facilities

A neighborhood is normally considered to be an area served by one elementary school. Its population varies from 2,000 to 10,000, averaging 6,000. Just as standards for elementary school location call for the school to be within walking distance of the homes it serves, so should neighborhood parks and playgrounds be within walking distance of the families in the neighborhood. It is desirable to locate parks and playgrounds adjacent to elementary schools, to make possible the joint use of school, park, and playground areas for the pupils and the general community.

The following discussion of neighborhood recreational facilities, together with the accompanying tables describe and summarize standards that have been published by several different agencies. It is emphasized again that there are no absolutes in recreation criteria. Although these standards are usually declared to be the “minimum,” it is certain that the “minimum” will never be reached by all cities. Furthermore, in some communities, the “minimum” will be much more than is actually needed, while in other cities, the recommended “minimum” will be pitifully inadequate. These observations on the standards apply not only to those suggested for neighborhood facilities, but to all other standards covered in this report. Standards for Outdoor Recreational Areas 2022 Standards for Outdoor Recreational Areas 2022 Standards for Outdoor Recreational Areas 2022 Standards for Outdoor Recreational Areas 2022Standards for Outdoor Recreational Areas 2022 Standards for Outdoor Recreational Areas 2022 Standards for Outdoor Recreational Areas 2022

Standards for Outdoor Recreational Areas 2022


Playlots (Table 2) are small areas intended for children of pre-school age. They are essentially a substitute for the individual backyard and are normally provided in high population density areas or as a part of a large-scale housing development. Such facilities are provided by the municipality only occasionally in an underprivileged neighborhood where backyard play opportunities are not available. In most cities the separate playlot is not considered an essential part of the municipal recreation system, and provision for such areas is left to private agencies or housing authorities. It is quite common, however, to include a playlot area as part of a neighborhood playground. The facilities of a playlot should be simple and safe and include the following: swings (low, regular), slides (low), sand box, mountain climber (low), play sculptures, one or more play houses, open area for free play, a shelter with benches for mothers, space for baby carriages, small wading pool or spray pool, concrete walk and paved area for wheeled toys, and with a low fence around the entire area.

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