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Embracing active design

06 Oct 2014
by Kate Cracknell, editor-at-large, Health Club Management
Even the so-called ‘hard to reach’ groups all have to use our streets – so that’s where you start getting them active

People should be active every day, with opportunities to do so designed into the very fabric of our environments and our daily lives. That was the clear message of last month’s inspirational Active by Design Summit, organised by the UK’s Design Council. So how might this look in practice, and what does it mean for health club operators?

The event showcased an array of thought-provoking initiatives and brought together experts from a wide range of potentially collaborative fields. Leading architects and local council members alike spoke of the need for cities and streets to be designed with humans, not efficiency or cars, in mind. Active commuting was another topic, with initiatives such as Act Alarm clock grabbing the imagination – an alarm clock that varies the time it wakes you depending on the weather forecast, and whether you’ll therefore be able to walk to work.

Active commuting is an area where we’re already seeing positive initiatives. The Atlanta BeltLine is one great US example (see Health Club Management 2014 issue 10 p73), while in the UK London mayor Boris Johnson has set out plans for two new cycle superhighways running from north to south and east to west London.

But it’s not just about active commuting: as KaBOOM! CEO Darell Hammond urges on Health Club Management 2014 issue 10 page 64, every city needs to be a playground, with play happening everywhere and for everyone. And indeed a handful of speakers at the Summit focused on this. We heard about Pop-Up Parks with active games designed into them. About a new GPS-based, real-world strategy game – Run an Empire – where you ‘own’ areas near you by physically running around them, but where other people can take them off you by doing the same, so you have to run again to claim them back. About StreetGym’s use of street furniture such as bollards and cycle racks for a novel style of workout, and about slides in London and swings in Montreal – for adults. And about a bridge in Reykjavik, Iceland, which is usually lit blue, but where each section turns pink as you step on it; run across it fast and you can turn the whole bridge pink.

If we can make our streets more appealing and even fun to use, we stand a chance of getting many more people active: as Transport for London’s Lucy Saunders pointed out, even the so-called ‘hard to reach’ groups all have to use our streets – so that’s where you start getting them active.

And this is where gym operators need to see the bigger picture. There may be some opportunities to get involved straight away – get your members to play Run an Empire and keep an updated map in the club, for example, or make your outdoor workouts more play-based.

But essentially operators need to understand they’re just one piece in the jigsaw – never have I been clearer on that than after this Summit. If we join the movement to get our cities designed with physical activity in mind, in the long run we may benefit as people reach a level of fitness where they feel ready to try a gym. In the meantime, let’s lead by example and not – as in one photo we were shown at the Summit – have escalators to bring members into our clubs.

Tags: Health Club Management  health & fitness  sport & recreation  architecture/design  travel 

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