One size user fees don’t fit all

Today’s edition of the Globe and Mail reports about community anger about new user fees for the use of Toronto’s municipal playing fields.

The health promoting benefits of staying fit and active are well-established, but one-size-fits-all user fees can mean that people with low incomes are unable to access community recreation facilities, which can lead to poor health. This is particularly concerning for children as a lack of opportunities to be active can lead to a lifetime of health problems. The irony is that reducing childhood obesity is supported by enormous research and is a significant provincial priority. The short-sighted decision to increase user fees could lead to significant long-term health damage, especially for the most vulnerable.

These are issues that the Wellesley Institute addressed in a recent policy briefing about the importance of community recreation services. Our Youth Photovoice research project in Toronto’s St. James Town neighbourhood found that young people valued these services and we outlined how already marginalized populations are inequitably impacted by user fees.

We argued that the City should take health equity into account before making decisions about increasing user fees. In light of today’s story, we encourage municipal leaders to take a fresh look at this issue.