Encouraging individuals to be active isn’t a new idea. For good health, civic participation, and a sense of camaraderie, the benefits of sports and exercise are self-evident. Therefore, it is not surprising that physical activity has become a political concern for cities that are catching on to the trend and offering high-quality sporting facilities. However, more and more people are leaving athletic facilities and invading urban spaces. What if exercise could offer us another way to experience our cities?
We have now become accustomed to the fact that we must share our cities’ public spaces with joggers, cyclists, and other athletes. Little by little, new ways of inhabiting cities appear and amateur athletes manage to “hack” public spaces. Whether through simply changing the location of an activity, or re-appropriating city benches for other activities, our cities are becoming sporting grounds. And some are not hesitating to seize this athletic energy in order to transform it into actual energy. From piezoelectric paving slabs that transform our steps into electricity to exercise bikes that recharge phone batteries, there is no shortage of ideas. And they all share a common principle: from now on healthy bodies will contribute to a healthy environment.
Injecting Life into our Cities with Activity
These new athletic usages have generated needs to which designers must respond. Making physical activity accessible is subsequently becoming a major concern. In this spirit, Julie Godard, a fifth year student at the École de design Nantes Atlantique, proposes to create a means of connecting athletic infrastructures found in athletic complexes with the public spaces adjacent to such facilities. Three different kinds of connections are proposed: material, identity, and digital. In this way, athletic equipment (climbing walls, skating ramps, basketball courts, bleachers) become integrated into the urban landscape so as to be completely accessible at all times and under any conditions. Graphic elements such as signs or logos would signal the space’s athletic function while also welcoming new users. Lastly, as required by our digital age, “urban applications” such as the i-girouette coupled with social networks could make activity more accessible. With these developments we can conceive of a version 2.0, or even 3.0, of activity and the use of space.
Owning the City through Exercise
A sustainable city must therefore be active, with physical activity offering the opportunity to practice urban living in an enjoyable and eco-friendly fashion. Also in the domain of urban health, the “Relay” project by Thibaut Rouganne, a fifth year student at the École de design Nantes Atlantique, gives citizens the opportunity to become active in their neighborhoods. Through pedaling an exercise bike, an individual generates electricity that can be harnessed and used wherever he sees fit. The most active among us could even make use of it to directly charge a cell phone on the machine, or stockpile the energy into an emergency battery. But the concept is not limited to individuals; its influence is more universal. To foster civic participation and form links between residents, a person could also supply energy to his neighborhood. Public lighting could in part be generated by a neighborhood’s own inhabitants. In this example, the designer lays out a truly sustainable practice for the city of tomorrow. You improve your well-being through exercise, become aware of the concerns associated with sustainable development, and moreover add vitality to your neighborhood. Sustainable activity is good for us, others, and our planet!
Should cities strive to integrate exercise and athletes into public urban spaces, or are there advantages in offering separate spaces for physical activity?
Original article, originally published in French, here.
Credits: Images and data linked to sources.