I believe a recent Barrington recreation survey is a scathing indictment of the town’s recreational facilities and a desperate plea for government action. I don’t know how anyone who took …
I believe a recent Barrington recreation survey is a scathing indictment of the town’s recreational facilities and a desperate plea for government action. I don’t know how anyone who took time to read through the entire 122-page report could believe anything else. However, I believe some town leaders see it differently — or won’t see it at all.
The survey was widely publicized, open to the entire community for a month and attracted nearly 800 responses. Good luck finding the results. They are not posted anywhere on the town’s website, they were not embedded in the Recreation Department’s frequent newsletters, and they were not shared with the survey participants themselves.
Here’s what it takes to find the results. First, visit the Barrington Town Council web page, then click on the “Clerkbase” link for council “agendas and supporting documentation,” navigate to the March 6 meeting agenda, scroll down to item #23, and then guess that the results of a high-profile, month-long, town-wide survey can be found hidden behind the single word “Recreation” (the survey itself is not identified anywhere on the agenda). Click on that link and you can find the full report on what nearly 800 people had to say about recreation facilities in Barrington.
When you do, the first thing you find is an overarching warning at the very top of page 1. Written in bold type, it states: “It is a very incomplete picture of the community regarding these topics given the significant limitations of conducting online surveys.” It then delivers a deeper warning about the limitations of online surveys, including “self-selection bias” in “any given internet community.” The warning is accompanied by a citation to an obscure research paper published six years ago by the Oxford Press. I’m still bewildered that the town would plan, write and execute its own survey, analyze the results, and then lead it off with a dire warning, from a distant scholar, about how it is not to be trusted.
If you can get past the introduction and, out of curiosity, peruse the actual results, you might be surprised by what you find. A whole lot of people are frustrated by the recreational facilities in Barrington. (It’s not just the editor of the Barrington Times, a lone town councilor and a few sports league organizers, as some have suggested.)
The first half of the survey captures measurable data about what types of activities, sports and facilities people utilize. Not surprisingly, it tells us that people like to ride their bikes and run, and that older people like pickle ball. It shows that the bike path is the most popular asset in town, and that soccer is the most popular sport.
The survey then moves to four, open-ended questions, where none of the results are easily quantifiable. Because they were not “yes” or “no” multiple-choice questions, the answers cannot be placed into a measurable chart. To understand what people said, you have to read the entire thing, soaking in the opinions shared across the spectrum.
What do we need?
The first question asks what recreational facilities are needed in town. The answers are incredibly broad and insightful, with people talking about artificial turf, fields with lights, seating, bathrooms, trash receptacles, a recreation complex, an outdoor pool, a skating rink, safer sidewalks and more pickle ball courts. The comments are laced with criticisms of the current conditions — an indictment of what the town currently offers. There are 625 answers to this question, and they range from scathing to very thoughtful.
What is problematic?
The next question asks what concerns there are with the current facilities. Things turn a little nasty here. High school athletes talk about embarrassing conditions and dangerous fields. Field hockey players unleash blistering complaints about their situation. Parents vent about water-logged fields and canceled games; dangerous playing surfaces; congested parking areas; and a lack of indoor facilities, leading them toward time-consuming, out-of-town activities.
There are 430 answers to this question, and they are not flattering.
What about artificial turf?
Question 3 is the lightning rod. What do you think about installing an artificial turf field? It’s the most divisive question, and it received the most responses — 680. Because it was presented as an open-ended question, there’s no way to definitively measure community sentiment. Unless you count and categorize all 680 answers. Which I did. Twice.
The accompanying graphic shows the results; 74% of respondents favor the installation of an artificial turf field somewhere in Barrington.
The comments themselves are similarly passionate, angry and emotional — on both sides — as the responses earlier in the survey. There are strong feelings, both for and against, but there is a clear majority. Respondents overwhelmingly favor artificial turf.
In conclusion: A cry for help
A final question asked for more input on synthetic turf, and another 235 respondents chimed in, most repeating their earlier comments. So what’s the final takeaway after reading 1,410 written comments multiple times? For me, the conclusion is clear, and it’s not what you might think.
For too long, this entire topic has been framed as a debate between sports-loving, pro-turf zealots and stubborn environmental watchdogs using scare tactics to attack “plastic grass.” While that debate will certainly continue, I suggest town leaders look beyond the rhetoric.
Everyone should understand that even the most passionate advocates do not wake up in the morning longing for more artificial turf in their lives. In other words, they do not want turf for turf’s sake. What they want is a solution to the litany of painstaking, frustrating recreational inadequacies in Barrington — which are now exhaustively documented in a survey that almost nobody has seen.
I refute the town’s efforts to undermine its own survey, as I believe it offers accurate insights into what a majority of this town’s residents have felt while playing, coaching, organizing or watching sports and recreational activities here in Barrington. This is a wonderful town with a high quality of life in all areas except one — recreation. We have fantastic open spaces and public access to the water, but the actual recreational facilities are old, tired, underwhelming and inadequate for the people living here. The survey tells that truth loud and clear — if you’re willing to listen.
Scott Pickering is a Barrington resident and general manager of East Bay Media Group, publisher of the Barrington Times.