Leisure is more than relaxing at home with a good book or taking a vacation.
It represents quality of life, from trail networks and wireless Internet to universal sidewalks and hip-hop classes, says a Vancouver Island duo looking to reshape the way people look at leisure.
Erin Heeney and Laurel Sliskovic are the first graduates of Vancouver Island University’s masters in sustainable leisure program and the creators of The Sociable Scientists Inc. – a new business aiming to help communities consider the role leisure plays in keeping citizens healthy and engaged.
According to the entrepreneurs, leisure is a big part of people’s quality of life, but it is often overlooked by organizations and municipalities looking to be more sustainable and competitive. Age-friendly sidewalks for skateboards and scooters and trail networks surrounded by shops and restaurants, for example, can rejuvenate neglected spaces and encourage more people to move around without cars, they say.
The ‘scientists’ hope to bring creative new practices from around the globe to communities looking to bolster their offerings and help municipalities evaluate how they are doing on the leisure front.
“[Sustainable leisure] really is a larger part of the conversation that often doesn’t get the same consideration as things like job creation,” said Sliskovic.
“But if we are not also creating healthy spaces for people to participate in leisure with their families, they may choose [to live] in one community over another,” Sliskovic said.
Sliskovic and Heeney are the first and second students to graduate from the new Masters of Arts in Sustainable Leisure at Vancouver Island University. According to Sliskovic, the program is so new there was really no employer looking for the degree on resumes, so the two decided to create their own company. It’s a chance for them to contribute to how communities are developed and get people more engaged, she said.
The company launched in Nanaimo and Campbell River in June.
“Sociable Scientists is a play on words because that’s what our background is – social science – but we are also pretty outgoing and want to engage with people and really put research and facilitation [around leisure] into the hands of the community,” Heeney said, adding they plan to help with land-use planning and sustainable development initiatives.
The company’s first client is the Southern Gulf Islands Economic Development Commission, which is looking to craft a vision for the South Gulf Islands Electoral Area. The sociable scientists are tasked with coming up with ways to overcome the lack of high speed Internet access so the area can attract more creative professionals.
As word gets out about the company, Heeney said they hope to help other regions solve leisure dilemmas.
“By looking at sustainability from a social perspective and leisure-based perspective we hope to be able to help empower people to … make new changes in order to continue to thrive and have a viable socio-economic environment to live in,” she said.