Being fortunate in the past to have served as an editor at Spacing Magazine, I have come to notice installations of new objects in public space much more than I would have previously. And this tendency doesn't just apply to public art, or to public typos. In the fall, the installation of some public athleticism--ie. new outdoor gyms in Toronto--also caught my eye.
At first, these gyms appealed to the (very strong) nostalgist in me, bringing back the afternoons I once spent jogging around woodchip-lined Calgary fitness parks in the 1980s and 1990s. (Oh for the days when I could do a chinup!)
Then, I started wondering... why bring the outdoor fitness "park" back after so many of them from the 80s seem to be decrepit and abandoned?
Could this be part of a wider trend to remove "sedentary" street furniture like benches and bus stop shelters and replace them with more sporting types of equipment?
Today Openfile Toronto published my brief look at some of these questions. An excerpt:
Over the past year, new outdoor gyms have been installed in four Toronto parks: Woodbine Beach Park; Julius Deutsch Park (formerly Cecil Street Parkette) and Sally Bird Park, both in the Annex; and Glen Ravine Park, near Eglinton Avenue East and Midland Avenue. All are public; all are free. The largest, arrayed around the Woodbine Beach playground, has seven stations that can accommodate a total of twelve people, and includes a leg press, seated back row, and elliptical trainer. The smallest, at Sally Bird Park, has three stations—a chest press, air skier, and warm-up-and-stretch station—that can handle four users.
“If we could do this everywhere, we would,” says Catriona Delaney, manager of Get Active Toronto, a nonprofit that helped coordinate placement of the Woodbine and Glen Ravine gyms. “If kids are brought to the playground, but their parents are sitting on benches, what message does that send? We’d like to build a physically active culture by default rather than by mandate.”
This outdoor-fitness trend has some eighty-year-old precedents. In the 1930s, with unemployment at its height, concerns about declines in physical activity, combined with the need for make-work projects, resulted in the construction of walking trails in many parts of Canada. And in the '60s and '70s, governments, warned about the health effects of increasingly sedentary lifestyles, installed wood-and-steel fitness circuits like the Vita Parcours in Sunnybrook Park.
Delaney says that now's the time to further remove barriers to physical activity in Toronto. “We have the fastest-rising obesity rate of any city in the country,” she says. “These gyms are great for people who are just starting to be physically active. And we need that. We don’t all have the means to hire personal trainers, right?”
While these sites are great in a lot of ways, there's also some valid concerns about them. Read on at Openfile for those.
A few more extra notes of interest on this topic:
City Councillor Adam Vaughan, who faciliated two of the parks, told me he would one day like to see a park in his ward where the electric lights or other electric features are powered by the actions of people on these types of gym machines.
There's a variety of ways these parks have come to be across Canada. In Red Deer, they were implemented through a health-care interest group formed of doctors. In Calgary, two members of the community pushed for them. In many places, though, it is something that the muncipality decides they are going to do.
There are actually a lot more of these gyms in Canada's smaller cities than in its larger ones. Fort McMurray claims to have the largest outdoor gym in Canada, for instance.
The main domestic competitor for GreenGyms, which manufactured Toronto's outdoor gyms, is Alberta's Fitness Outdoors. I wonder how different these pieces of equipment art.
And I'd be remiss if I didn't point out Spacing's blog post and comment thread on these types of gyms in China.
Finally, there is a whole other realm that could have been investigated here on the aesthetic qualities of these gyms--colour choices, design, etc. I'll leave that to my more artistic readers, for now.
(Image of some chest press and back row machines at Woodbine Beach from OpenFile by Christopher Drost)
Thursday, February 24, 2011
Posted by Leah Sandals at 1:53 PM