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The Significance of Leisure and Recreation to the Industrial Wealth and Economic Growth of Illinois, 1950-1960

Prepared by Professor Allen V. Sapora

Illinois is one of the wealthiest states in our nation. On our farms and in our industries, work is the essence of our economic strength--without it there would be no wealth, or at least that material wealth which depends upon effort. . . It would be incorrect, of course, to assume that everything which makes up our living, or which we value highly, requires effort or work on our part. We do not have to move a muscle to enjoy the stars in the sky. To have a fine view of the moon, to smell the freshness of the woods after a steady rain, to feel the warmth of the sun on our Backs--for these things we do not have to strive as we strive to acquire property or material goods. Material wealth, however, is always preceded by work. Yet, paradoxical as it seems, non-work activity, as reflected in our recreation, has a tremendously large and positive influence upon our economy. Increased efficiency in production brings about a higher standard of living. This provides more leisure time in which recreation flourishes. Leisure time is the period when we have the chance to consume in large quantities. It is consumption time--it is during our free time that we have a chance to spend what we earn in our work. Our wealth and our economy are quite as dependent upon what we spend as upon what we earn.

The new leisure, which science and technology are producing, is becoming an increasingly dynamic factor in the economic order. In trying to gauge the adequacies of our basic natural resources a century hence, for a population double and a standard of living eight times that of a decade ago, reliable estimates have been calculated indicating that the increase in demand for consumer goods and services will be somewhat as follows:

  • Food and nutrition--about 8 times
  • Shelter and home maintenance--about 16 times
  • Attire and personal care--about 20 times
  • Health and education--about 30 times
  • Recreation and travel--about 33 times

Nobody, of course, knows exactly how much money is spent for recreation, mainly because there is no consistency among statisticians in defining "recreation." The Twentieth Century Fund, which has undertaken exhaustive research in the economic aspects of recreation, indicates that an estimate of 40 billion dollars per year for total recreation expenditures in the United States could easily be supported. This is nearly five times as much as consumers spend for medical care and twice the amount paid for rent, including the rental value of owner-occupied dwellings. Fortune magazine makes even greater claims for the vigor and promise of the leisure and recreation market by saying it is "one of the largest and most complex in the entire United States economy," being twice the amount which the American consumer lays out for new cars and home goods.

Nowhere do we give a better picture of our sky-rocketing interest in recreation, and our willingness to support it with dollars, than the number of swimming pools--public or private--we are building. In 1950 there were 10,700 pools of various types in the United States. Today there are 133,000! The "boating boom" (see attached article) is another striking example. In 1949, expenditures for boating equipment and services was approximately 660 million dollars; in 1959 it was 21/2 billion dollars. One might say that the Midwest people are "landlubbers," but in St. Louis, Missouri, there are more boats registered with the U.S. Coast Guard than there are in Boston.

One could go on and give illustrations of this type of wealth in products and services involved in many leisure and recreation activities. The point is that these products require metals, plastics, lumber, agricultural products, oil and other basic resources that are either grown or are a part of our general resources. The products required in leisure activities must be manufactured to meet specific needs. This provides jobs for people and involves considerable industrial wealth.

Besides this basic wealth in leisure products, the entire matter of the tourist trade is of major importance in Illinois. First, it is obvious that thousands of people leave Illinois for vacation trips that would not do so if more and a greater variety of recreation facilities and areas were available within the State. That business men and our State officials are aware and concerned about this exodus of tourists from Illinois is expressed briefly in the article "Tourist $ Exodus Alarming the State." Careful studies conducted by our neighboring states indicate they realize the great wealth in this tourist trade. Wisconsin, for example, has accurate statistics on use of its state parks, including the amount spent daily by visitors and other pertinent tourist information.* The common expression in Wisconsin from June to September is that "every other automobile license plate on the Wisconsin highways is an Illinois license.

To these economic implications would have to be a few more illustrations of a somewhat different type.

  1. For example, there is a defensible belief that the community which has attractive recreation resources is more likely to attract and hold home and business investors. Far-sighted industrial leaders feel that in deciding upon locations for new industry more thought is being given to the recreation resources of the community. This thinking hinges upon the fact that the competition for manpower is becoming more acute because the demand outstrips the supply and, therefore, that incentives beyond the higher pay check must be offered.
  2. Still another economic aspect of recreation is the relation of its facilities to property values. Real estate promoters and developers know that a new subdivision is made more attractive to the prospective buyer if it includes parks and other functional and aesthetically interesting recreation facilities. Likewise, the tax assessors are quick to increase the assessments, and hence the values, on properties which are adjacent to or which are easily accessible to such facilities.
  3. Speaking of taxes, it should be pointed out that the leisure time industries, and the people associated with them, are major sources of tax revenue. The orderly conduct of desirable leisure-time activities produces millions each year in state and local tax revenues. The more positive and basically sound our approach is in meeting our leisure needs, the more money will be returned to taxing bodies from the vast expenditures of leisure industries and activities.
  4. Finally, it would be a dark day if we ever attempted to determine the value of the full, recreative life solely in terms of its economic implications. How can we know the positive values of youth clubs, or the sheer joy in living that comes from recreation activities? That desirable recreation opportunities reduce delinquency, prevent crime and countless other social ills that cost millions yearly, is also admitted. But it must be kept in mind that along with these preventive values come the basic cultural, social and political values that are essential parts of a vigorous, growing economy and a progressive society.

What can the Department of Recreation and Municipal Park Administration (Leisure Studies) do to provide help in this broad question of developing the industrial wealth of Illinois through leisure and recreation activities? Briefly, four major contribution of the Department are indicated, pointing out that the Department's services are also coordinated with the general statewide services of the University.

  1. The Department of Recreation and Municipal Park Administration (Leisure Studies) is responsible for the development of professional trained recreation personnel. Because increased leisure will impose challenges heretofore unknown to the citizens of Illinois, because its impact upon the democratic social fabric can be either a generating influence or a devastating force, and because recreative living requires human perceptions different from the traditional, the finest type of leadership is needed. It is intended that the men and women leaders who receive their education in recreation and park administration and operation provide the State with leadership that will recognize that the positive uses of leisure are not static, that these leaders will be the type that can think scientifically, imaginatively and creatively. The young people of this new profession must provide leadership that will inspire others to be moved to develop positive recreation activities that will be of lasting value to individuals and contribute ultimately to the economic and industrial wealth of the entire state.
  2. Cooperation with other university departments and state agencies in planning and developing recreation and leisure opportunities in Illinois.
    1. The University Committee on Community Development, Urbana Campus, is a committee through which the Department can aid in the combined attack upon state and local problems. This coordinated effort allows for the Department staff to contribute its special knowledges and experiences to improve and develop state opportunities for leisure and recreation.
    2. The Department's Recreation and Parks Field Service gives direct help to local public agencies, private individuals and groups in the development of recreation facilities and opportunities in Illinois. It provides technical and professional assistance and counsel, prepares and disseminates information, suggests acceptable standards of operation, and cooperates with other University, State and community interests in the development of all types and phases of recreation, park and leisure time developments and activities throughout the state. Typically, the activities of the Field Service are recreation and park surveys and studies (Mattoon, Streator, Garden Hills, Oak Park), participation in various meetings and conferences, and cooperation in projects with the State Department of Conservation, the State Board of Economic Development, and in such special developments as the Wabash Valley Interstate River Commission project now in progress.
    3. The Department staff cooperates in the development of recreation plans and activities that are the direct result of fundamental planning for recreation and leisure on a regional or statewide basis. The resources for recreation, as disclosed by Philip H. Lewis in the timely article, "Recreation for Open Space in Illinois," are obvious; the implementation of this excellent approach to diagnosis of need sets the stage for further planning and creative imagination regarding what activities can be conducted in the many resources potentially available throughout the state. Such plans would be directed toward meeting the needs of people and prevent the so-called tourist exodus from the state for recreation opportunities, and go far to provide adequate and desirable local and regional recreation opportunities within the state borders. Cooperation in the development of local projects such as Taylorville Lake and the developed 25,000 acre water area at Rend Lake are typical of what can be developed with coordinated local and state effort.
  3. The Department of Recreation and Municipal Park Administration (Leisure Studies) and its staff stand ready to provide the technical leadership necessary to conduct research studies that will provide valid information about participation in recreation and leisure-time activities, standards, potential for orderly operational development, maximum use of areas and facilities, and other specific areas in which scientific data is now lacking. Perhaps it is in this area that a very significant contribution can be made by the specialists in the Department; also, much can be gained from cooperative research projects that could be carried on with researchers in other University Departments and with individuals in the various State agencies.
  4. And finally, the University as a whole, and particularly the Department of Recreation and Municipal Park Administration (Leisure Studies) and other Departments such as Physical Education, Music, and Art, have a responsibility to influence students to understand the place of recreative living in the larger social scene. Students at the university are a major industrial and social resource--they must develop balance as individuals, and as community leaders in all walks of life they will, if properly educated, make their contribution in the development of worthwhile leisure activities in their respective communities after graduation. In this role, the student as citizen is a potential leader in education for leisure, one who will help to get across the idea that leisure time activities have broad implications and potential for our industrial wealth, and one who at the same time will be a citizen that realizes that the wise use of leisure is a responsibility of all society.

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