March 19 2014

Interacting with our Cities Through Exercise: Student Ideas from Nantes, Pays de la Loire, France

Paths for cyclists and pedestrians in Vichy, France

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.

Bicycle pedals: a source of energy?

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.

Marcus Khoury

Marcus Khoury is a recent graduate of the University of California Los Angeles, where he obtained a B.A. in French & Francophone Studies. Aside from his native Michigan, Marcus has lived in several states, in addition to France and Chile. Owing to his experiences with a variety of cultures, languages, and environments, he has always been keenly interested in how the exchange of ideas between different cities, regions, and countries helps to shape both physical and cultural landscapes. His linguistic background, in addition to his interest in the diversity of international urban environments and experiences, has led Marcus to fill the position of French Language Translator at The Grid, where he will be translating and presenting French language material involving environmental design.

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This entry was posted on Wednesday, March 19th, 2014 at 9:13 am and is filed under Community/Economic Development, Energy, Marcus Khoury, Social/Demographics, Transportation, Urban Planning and Design. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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