This study explored recreation provision in lower socio-economic areas from the paradigm of systems theory. It was postulated that by adopting a second-order systems approach rather than perpetuating a first-order systems approach, a positive social impact could be affected. The study was grounded in a qualitative, participatory research design. Data were collected through focus groups, vignette scenarios, semi-structured interviews and empirical observation in two lower socio-economic communities in South-Africa. Participants included members of the lower socio-economic communities as well as external individuals and organisations providing help within the two communities. Results rejected the stated postulation and suggested that current recreation provision in the researched communities concurred with a first-order system and thus reinforced feelings of social exclusion. A definite pattern of learned helplessness, shifting responsibility and comfort with existing social existence emerged from the lower socio-economic community. However, when moving to the higher level of abstraction as provided by second-order systems theory it becomes clear that community recreation cannot be approached from an observer’s point of view. It is recommended that a second-order systems approach be implemented that feeds on higher levels of recursion, shared reality that transform interaction between recreation providers and community from dominant-submissive to mutually beneficial. This change in interaction between the systems involved could result in the building of community capacity and possibly to the empowerment of community members.