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15.06.2021 - Ausgabe: 3/2021

Public open space as an environment for physical activities - The case of Algarve, Portugal

By Gonçalo Martires (Studio Director | Senior Landscape Architect), Catarina Silva (Junior Landscape Architect)

© Beatriz Pinto und playparc Allwetter-Freizeit-Anlagenbau GmbH

Sports, as a form of pleasure, have always been rooted in society and in the construction of cities. It is known that the first known sports equipment in Europe were the Greek track or stadium (used for races) and the Roman amphitheater (for gladiator fights), structural elements of the urban network of cities of classical antiquity. With the growing awareness that the practice of physical exercise has direct benefits in the health and well-being of populations in opposition to more sedentary lifestyles, green public spaces have gained more relevance in the development of urban sports equipment.

In this sense and in the last years working as landscape architects, we have been asked to develop projects for urban and environmental requalification in Portugal, especially in the Algarve region, for which the use of recreational and sports facilities acquired a central aspect in the design of space.

The role of these leisure and sports equipment is multifunctional and intergenerational. On one hand, due to their ease of use, they can meet the needs of physical activity of different age groups and promote the sharing of sporting experience, as in the case of street-work-out equipment.

On the other hand, they are attractive, both from an aesthetic point of view and the activity they perform, they adapt to different conceptions of public space with advice by manufacturers like the company Playparc and technical support. This equipment can occupy several urban spaces, allowing a generalized use by the community. Likewise, the safety and comfort of the equipment, as well as its long durability, high resistance to all weather conditions and damage, and easy maintenance, become fundamental in the context of public space.

Two of the urban public space requalification projects we have developed in recent years, and which represent a good example of multifunctional public spaces where the recreational-sports aspect is highlighted, are the Faro high school woods, and the Jardim do Coreto in Lagos.

In the 1940's, the Faro high school woods were idealized as a space of framing of a large school equipment, in the center of the city of Faro. As time went by, the school community went beyond the walls of the school grounds and made this green spot an informal space and complementary to their sports practice.

The intensive use that this green space has gained over the years was not supported by a balanced management of the existing equipment, paths and vegetation, which drastically increased the rapid degradation of this area. Due to this material and environmental degradation, much due to lack of effective maintenance, activities were gradually reduced and the space abandoned. 

As this is one of Faro's central public green spaces, along with the general problem of scarcity of urban green spaces in this city, its requalification has become fundamental to the community.

The opportunity to intervene in the Faro high school woods took advantage of the specific use for leisure and sporting activities of this space, formalizing different practices that translate into: (1) the creation of a cross-country track, (2) a street-work-out zone, (3) a large lawn area, (4) an informal play area, in wooden structures, that is suitable for an age group from 3 to 10 years, (5) a basketball training field and (6) a geriatric park. 

The diversity of proposals allows, not only to meet the demands of all groups and age groups in the city, but also to gain importance by complementing the sporting activities developed by the adjacent school equipment. The construction work will begin soon, responding to the growing need to use public space as a complement to physical activity.

Also in the Jardim do Coreto project, the importance of complementary uses between the existing school equipment and the surrounding public sports equipment is evident, which broadens the choice of sports activities to be developed during physical education classes.

With the restructuring of the school facilities, resulting from the implementation of a government measure of national scope, several schools in Portugal were intervened. In the case of Lagos secondary school, it was necessary that the intervention went beyond the equipment area, and its integration and articulation with the surrounding urban mesh was foreseen, giving a new coherence of design as well as use.

In this case there was a previous will of the municipality to create a park for intergenerational socializing, by maintaining the existing traditional informal sports practices with the introduction of new and a broader set of equipment. As such, the intervention had as main objective the creation of a public space where the relationship and the sharing of recreational, game and sport experiences, among different age groups, could occur in a harmonious way.

The proposal recommended the formalization of three zones of activities: (1) with traditional games including petanque, chess tables and ping-pong tables for the promotion of interaction between users; (2) a multipurpose amphitheater to support the development of cultural activities and assist informal sports activities; (3) a street-work-out circuit comprising three stages, the first with metallic structures that combines body-weight with rhythm and physical coordination; a second composed of a set of adjustable exercise equipment that covers the training of arm and leg muscles, adapted for all ages, and a third area for jumping games with various levels of difficulty. Throughout the circuit there are sidewalk paintings that that may contribute to trigger various creative extra-sportive activities.

The prior existence and the introduction of new arboreal specimens, mainly of deciduous species, within sports areas, has become essential in both projects, since in summer the Algarve reaches high temperatures, which becomes a strong constraint to the practice of outdoor sports.

In summary, and as a reflection of the pandemic scenario we live and the obligation of general confinement we realize that our "living space" is also the public space - the street, the garden, the park. With closed gyms, the demand for spaces to exercise in the open air has become exponential, and moreover, its use is free of cost to the user, meeting the fundamental principles of social equity in a contemporary society.

We are therefore facing an opportunity to enhance the use of public outdoor spaces, making them attractive and accessible to the entire population, as we are increasingly aware that they are essential to preserve the health and well-being of urban populations.

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