WHEN an individual or a family is bored of staying indoors and needs a quiet place to sit, stare and meditate, but does not want to go too far away from their immediate environment, the answer is a public garden, a recreation ground, or what is called municipal park in developed countries.
Researches have proved that recreation, sports, arts appreciation and outdoor pursuits reduce self-destructive and anti-social behaviours which have recently reared their ugly heads among us in the spate of suicides.
Recreation in parks build strong families, healthy communities, and improve the quality of life of residents.
According to a study conducted for the California Outdoor Recreation Planning Programme, CORPP, published in 2005 by California State Parks, recreation reduces obesity, diminishes risks of chronic disease, heart disease, diabetes, cancer and osteoporosis; boosts immune system, and increases life expectancy.
Mentally, recreation and parks reduce depression, relieve stress, improve quality of life, promote self-esteem, personal and spiritual growth, and life satisfaction.
The benefits of recreation associated with parks are indeed limitless.
Our traditional African societies must have learned all these by intuition, which informed their policy to reserve open spaces called village squares where individuals could go and mingle with others.
No doubt, this is part of the reasons our forebears lived longer and happier than many of us do now.
Today, those entrusted with the responsibility of planning our urban environments have almost completely excluded community parks in the plans.
Not long ago in Lagos, a non-governmental organisation, NGO, had tried to save a large open space in a local community which had served as a park for decades. Residents used to go there in the evening to unwind while little children played around.
As soon as a tarred road was built across the community and the value of landed property skyrocketed, “owners” of the land started selling it off.
The NGO did everything it could to raise money (including approaching the local government) in order to pay off the owners and reserve the space to continue to serve the community as a park, but no one was interested. Today, that open sandy space has been crowded by haphazardly-built houses.
It is sad, that even at national level, there are only about eight national parks in Nigeria in spite of the fact that those parks are far removed from our immediate local communities, thus denying the people of their above-named benefits.
We have built up most of the open spaces created by the British colonial masters and replaced them with meaningless junk concrete structures.
We need as many community parks as possible.
This is an urgent assignment for the National Parks Governing Board and relevant agencies at states and local government levels.