Screen Shot 2013-02-16 at 5.37.00 PMThis is post from my friend, Anne Gantt. I love this concept and am inspired by the idea of parents pumping iron at the park. I’m hoping we can move this conversation forward. Please share ideas from your own neighborhoods in comments.

As a stay-at-home mom, I spend a ton of time at our neighborhood park while my 2 ½ and 4 year-old children zip down slides, scramble over the jungle gym, or chase each other in the woodchips. While they’re running around like little olympic athletes, I mostly just stand there doing nothing. A lot of nothing. Sound familiar?

That’s originally why I daydreamed about putting fitness equipment for adults in our park. I’d love to get a little exercise without having to resort to taking a turn on the monkey bars. The interesting thing is that installing adult fitness equipment will improve the park…for kids. This truly can be a win-win.

The park in question is here in Seattle– University Playground— it has a big grassy field, tennis courts, and beautiful new equipment for kids. It also has one of the very few public restrooms in the whole neighborhood–thus attracting a crowd. It sits in a tenuous location, one block from Interstate-5 and smack in the University District, which means the park sees a lot of illicit activity. Even worse, the illicit (I’m talking drug sales, etc) activity tends to happen in the section of the park right next to the playground.

Believe it or not, I’ve picked up more than a couple of used needles out of the woodchips myself.

Our park’s unsavory elements definitely scare some people off. I recently talked with a neighbor who refuses to take his 4-year old grandson to the park out of a concern for safety. This, even though their living room window looks right out onto the playground.

Something had to change. Urban dwelling can be better than this.

Last summer, I started wondering, along with a group of neighbors, about what we could do to make the park more attractive while simultaneously reducing the criminal activity. It occurred to me that having some outdoor fitness equipment might actually fit the bill. I wondered if teens, University of Washington college students, and parents would come to work out and exercise in the park. It seems possible with the right lure. It also felt like a perfect solution to improving safety.

Studies from Los Angeles and elsewhere show that outdoor fitness facilities are used throughout the day, bring new users to the park, increase their visits, and that the users exercise more. The Seattle Police Department supported installing fitness equipment as well. The Seattle PD confirms from experience that just a few people engaged in healthy activities can make a big difference in a public space.

Now we’re moving forward. Our little green urban square is gonna win.

Our neighborhood, The Roosevelt Neighbors’ Alliance, received a Small and Simple grant from the Neighborhood Matching Fund in November of 2012 to pilot Seattle’s first outdoor fitness area. Not only will this space provide access to fitness equipment, it will help increase the “eyes on the street” in the park, making it a safe place for kids, families, college students, grandparents and caregivers who look after young children.

The result of all that standing around doing a lot nothing is an outdoor fitness area in our local park in June. If this goes well and proves successful, one could be in your park, too.

What do you think? Would you use a fitness area if it were in your local park?

For more information or to make a tax-deductible donation to our efforts, please visit our page on the Roosevelt Neighbors’ Alliance website or email us: FriendsofUniversityPlayground (at) gmail (dot) com.

Need A Nudge To Make This Happen In Your Park?

  • Research shows that ten minutes of moderate activity a day, repeated three times, has more health benefits than one 30-minute workout. This is perfect for the park.
  • More than one-third of U.S. adults (35.7%) are obese. 17% of all children and adolescents in the US are obese.
  • Exercise is especially important for decreasing the risk of breast cancer in young, pre-menopausal women.
  • Parents who model good physical activity to their children promote lifelong healthy physical activity habits.