Feature Article - May 2018
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The Changing Face of Recreation

Multigenerational, Multipurpose Facilities

By Rick Dandes

The demand for flexibility of space within YMCAs and municipality-run recreation facilities is one of the strongest trends and greatest challenges facing architectural planners and their stakeholder clients today, as they try to anticipate needs in the face of constant change due to new innovations, directions, technologies and the expectations of their multigenerational community users.

Throw out that old notion of what a "Y" or your neighborhood rec center used to be, said architect Frank Parisi, associate principal, Williams Architects, Itasca, Ill. "It's nothing like what it is today. The origins of the YMCAs were designed as a place to go for young men, and often they would house transient men. That's how they started," he said.

Initially, YMCAs and recreation centers were geared toward younger generations—places where kids and youths could go get involved in activities, whether it was basketball, baseball or some kind of dance class. When people learned to swim, the answer was the YMCA or the local pool. Both YMCAs and municipal recreation centers started small, but over time the evolution of their offerings has expanded beyond community-oriented classes such as arts and crafts to encompass health, wellness and more active fitness programming, "which is where, over the past 20 years, these centers—call them community centers now—have been going," Parisi explained.

The trend in the market is fitness, he said. "It is a big thing, and different levels of fitness are really important, in addition to the original programming such as dance classes, ballroom dancing or painting, inside of the community center. The evolution of that, from the initial YMCA concept, is now multigenerational, so community centers start becoming community hubs, multigenerational—starting from the very small preschool toddler, where you can have some early learning classes before the child actually goes into kindergarten, it starts evolving into the active adult formula."

Increasingly, Parisi said, what's gone is the senior center, because the active adult, defined as 50-plus, is no longer interested in playing pinochle or shuffleboard. They are looking for active programming, which community centers are now providing.

Gone is the senior center, because the active adult, defined as 50-plus, is no longer interested in playing pinochle or shuffleboard.

But while programming targets the very young to the very old, at its root, it still has the essence of the community at heart. "Basically," Parisi said, "YMCAs and recreation centers are gathering spaces, and this is not just for programming; you can go there and lounge. Give people a home away from home, especially teens. If they are not involved in a sport, it's a perfect place to go and get together with friends. Recreation centers are becoming that go-to place. What we've learned from that is we really don't design facilities for particular generations, you design it from a flexibility perspective in a multi-generation solution."

Daniel Matoba, senior associate, project manager, Barker Rinker Seacat Architecture, of Denver, put it this way: "We are not designing the space for the trends. We are designing space to accommodate changing ideas."

Amenities you might see inside of a recreation center would certainly include the ones everyone is familiar with: gyms, pools, the running track, which has been very popular nationwide, because that will grab anywhere from the regular athlete running to the seniors walking in the morning. Silver Sneakers is a program that is geared to that. And then dance classes, fitness, group exercise classes, which can involve anything from Zumba, yoga, ballroom dancing, tap.

"You name it, across the gamut," Matoba said.

Parisi added that, "Recently we've seen that instead of a more traditional gym with a wood floor that targets volleyball and basketball, you have a multi-activity court gym. We call it a MAC gym. It's a smaller gym, but it's a catchall so you can do Tae Kwon Do, you can do inline skating. The multi-activity gym starts taking up on the trend for fitness, which right now is basically the CrossFit."

Gone is the day when people are just going to run on the treadmill or lift some weights. Fitness is currently more focused on conditioning and training. The MAC gym can be used as part of that because it has that versatility of the space, Parisi said.

Programming is also more often including indoor adventure play, such as ropes courses or climbing gyms. "You can use American Ninja Warrior as a kind of example," Parisi said, "but that's on a big scale."

Adventure play can exist at different levels and challenges inside the course. An example of that would be when you are harnessed in and you can walk on a rope or you can zip line and climb.

Interactive play designed from very young ages to adults, are also attractions at community centers.

The YMCA has a similar formula, but tailored to a different audience, Parisi said. "They see the need in the community. It varies geographically. If you are in Illinois, Colorado, California, the park department is different than in other areas. They have recreation divisions that support community centers. In other portions of the country, their recreation department is more about parks, so they might have smaller community centers. One room might be for everything. You might not have a gym, or a pool, although most will have an outdoor pool. Those communities will rely on the YMCA to supplement some of that recreation programming."