One of the most important and basic lessons we all learn is how to share. As children we are taught to share our toys and time on the swings, as employees we are encouraged to share ideas and successes, and as bicyclists we request that cars share the road. The idea is that by sharing, several people or groups get to enjoy something that otherwise would have only benefited one person or group. This idea of sharing has recently become more popular with private and public entities, as they are increasingly recognizing the benefits that can come about because of shared use.
As Safe Routes to School advocates, we often take part in walkability and bikeabilty assessments, but shouldn’t we also assess how easy it is for all children to play? When school playgrounds or fields are closed after school and on weekends, the opportunities many children have to play outdoors is drastically reduced. In light of the obesity epidemic, as well as financial concerns, a shared use agreement between a school and a park department can be an easy and inexpensive way to ensure that all people have access to physical activity opportunities. Making use of facilities that would otherwise not be used after hours allows for a more efficient use of public space and money, and is an almost effortless strategy against childhood obesity and play deserts.
Shared use agreements allow more people to take advantage of and enjoy community resources such as parks, playgrounds, ball fields, courts, pools, and recreation buildings. The issue is that unlike when we were children sharing toys, sharing gets trickier when it applies to property and buildings. Often local municipalities, schools, non-profits, religious institutions, businesses and other organizations view sharing their property as a liability, instead of an opportunity to improve the entire community. Liability issues can be a concern, but under no circumstance should it be a barrier to the creation of an agreement. Most shared use agreements are written in ways that directly address liability issues and are still mutually beneficial to both parties. Another concern frequently mentioned is that crime is more likely to occur if a school yard is not locked during non-school hours, but the continuous presence of people can actually make the area safer.
There are many reasons that communities should have extensive shared use policies- they improve physical activity opportunities, they help decrease obesity rates, they ensure that all people have access to open space and opportunities to play, they save money, and they foster a sense of partnership between all parties involved. While I could go on at length about all the positive affects shared use agreements can have on communities, the most straightforward and basic argument for them is that they prove to our children that we are indeed practicing what we preach. To steal a phrase from my own childhood- Sharing is Caring.
For more information about how to create shared use agreements in your community, please click here: http://www.saferoutespartnership.org/state/bestpractices/shareduse
Addressing liability: http://changelabsolutions.org/publications/liability-schools-50-states