People, not buildings


Properly run, recreation centers should be buzzing with activity -- maybe even around the clock -- drawing in people of all ages for activities from sports to crafts to music or ballet. Midnight basketball? Why not -- other cities have tried it successfully, and it's certainly better than getting caught in drug cross-fire on city streets. But except for a few outstanding

programs around the city, too many of Baltimore's 86 recreation centers simply do not provide enough services to justify their high cost.

As the city copes with shrinking revenue, it needs to think creatively about redeploying its resources. So we applaud this week's announcement by Mayor Schmoke that he views favorably a report from an outside consultant recommending that the city close many of its recreation centers or turn them over to private organizations.

Some communities will denounce any such moves, seeing them as a way of robbing neighborhoods of services. But by maintaining a network of recreation centers it can no longer afford, the city simply sacrifices quality for quantity -- and for the status quo. By redirecting resources in more creative ways, the same funds could go much further.

Currently, the city's recreation budget largely pays for buildings at the expense of programs that could draw people into activities, whether ice skating, rowing or track and field. Closing some recreation centers is a start, but the city needs to look beyond the centers themselves to a larger vision of recreational activities for its citizens. Maintaining facilities is no real accomplishment if nothing much goes on in them.

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