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Outdoor green gyms in Johannesburg: getting active for free!

Topics: Human Wellbeing | Comments

The City of Johannesburg is a rapidly-growing metropolis, the largest city in South Africa, and it faces a series of huge challenges to meet the needs of its population, half of whom are under the age of 35.[1] The 2011 census estimated the population at 4.4 million people[2]. Including the greater metropolitan area, the population tops 10 million.

As well as poverty and economic disadvantage, reflected in the 25% unemployment rate, the city has the task of ensuring this city is one that strives to provide a good quality of life for its residents. The task is a massive one- the most recent statistics published in The Lancet this year, show that South Africa has the highest overweight and obesity rate in sub-Saharan Africa[3] and is one of the fattest nations in the world, with 60% of the population being obese or overweight.

The City’s Growth and Development Strategy, known as Joburg 2040, which was launched in 2011, set down key themes for the future planning of the city. Through community consultation, a number of key indicators emerged as to what is required to ensure that Johannesburg, or Jozi as it is affectionately known, is a great place to live. Having space to relax and exercise was one of the clear indicators that emerged from the consultation process.

Johannesburg City Parks and Zoo (JPCZ) is the municipal-owned entity within the City of Johannesburg with the task of meeting the recreational needs of Jozi residents. With responsibility for more than 2000 parks, its mandate is to create, protect, maintain and develop open green spaces.

JPCZ has created many parks throughout the city since 2000, including in disadvantaged areas and townships like Soweto. The organisation found that as people gradually began incorporating usage of parks into their daily lives, there was increased demand for active recreation opportunities. It was also found that some parks were heavily over-utilised while others were under-utilised. In addition, it was found that non-communicable diseases, such as diabetes, high blood pressure and asthma, could be ameliorated through participation in parks activities and that there was scope for JPCZ to make a tangible difference to citizens’ health status.

When Tim Hogins, of the company Green Outdoor Gyms, approached the municipality with the idea of introducing green outdoor gyms to Johannesburg parks, JPCZ leapt at the idea. After four years of discussion and planning, the first green outdoor gym in a public park managed by JPCZ opened as a pilot program in 2012.

This first green gym was situated in Petrus Molefe Eco-Park in Soweto. It is constructed with all-weather high-quality equipment, such as treadmills, rowing machines, exercise bikes and weights, specifically built to withstand outdoor conditions. Most equipment has incorporated a double-sided design to allow two people to use it simultaneously. Usage of all equipment is free of cost for everybody.

The gym operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week. To ensure safety for users, gym instructors are employed who double-up as security staff, and who are always on site to lend a hand.

At its opening the Mayor Mpho Parks Tau said, “Real quality of life requires that everyone enjoys easy access to a range of services that improves their quality of life and enhances their sense of belonging and patriotism. We will partner with people of this city to constantly find new ways of expressing and celebrating our diversity”.

Addressing residents, he said “Let us use this gym to our advantage to ensure that we live healthy lives”. People must have been listening, as the gym proved extremely popular from the outset, giving access to gym facilities close to home to many people who could not afford to attend without this free option.

The outdoor green gym also increased the number of visitors to the park and initiated a remarkable level of community involvement. JCPZ reports that older residents come to the gym with cloths from home to keep the equipment clean. It is an asset for everybody in the local area, and it is recognised that building social cohesion and a sense of community ownership of the gym also works as a protection against vandalism.

The second pilot project for an outdoor green gym opened later in 2012 in Diepsloot Park and four more followed. In all, 20 outdoor green gyms are planned for the City of Johannesburg- all environmentally friendly, accessed free of charge, and especially designed to help those who cannot afford gym memberships.

Assessment of usage patterns has been carried out with the number of users averaging 80 during peak hours, with regulars preferring to work out in the mornings.

Bulumko Nelana, the Managing Director of JCPZ, believes that the gyms are helping to make the city a more liveable, family-friendly place.

“The benefits of rolling out the green outdoor gyms are far-reaching, from fostering healthy communities, to stimulating job creation and building civic pride,” he says.

“It is a model that serves as a blueprint when we talk about rolling out parks benchmarked on award-winning global standards.”

The health benefits are also vitally important. As Mr Nelana says, “The main objective was to introduce outdoor green gyms to help address concerns of growing obesity and other non-communicable diseases that can be controlled or managed through exercise. City Parks was able to determine from green gym enthusiasts that this initiative is a resounding success”.

The outdoor green gyms program continues to grow, although JPCZ has noted that, depending on complexity, each project can take between three to eight years to be realised.

Now in 2014, the City of Johannesburg, including the JPCZ entity, is developing the My Parks My City: Johannesburg City Parks and Zoo Active Citizen Engagement Program[4]. The objectives of the program include: to deepen public understanding of the value of natural resources; to increase appreciation of their benefits; to encourage citizens to regain possession of public green spaces; to recognise public green spaces as spaces for social interaction and cultural expression; and to motivate communities to stay healthy and work collectively.

It is clear that the outdoor green gyms program has an important role to play in helping the City of Johannesburg to meet its long-term objectives of a resilient, liveable, sustainable city that offers a lifestyle that meets the health and recreational needs of its population.




[4] My Parks My City Programme Manuscript July 2014 Draft 1


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