Sport and redensification – how inner-city exercise spaces can be retained in the future

Sport and redensification – how inner-city exercise spaces can be retained in the future

Forecasts for the future are always easy to make and are rarely subsequently checked for their accuracy. It is still very uncertain how our lives will look in 20 or 50 years’ time. If we look back at the world in 1999 or 1969 we notice how many things have changed over the years and - this much at least is certain - this will also be the case in the future. Accordingly, the approach of all planning should be to observe current developments and conditions and respond appropriately.

What can be stated without hesitation is that cities in Germany and worldwide are growing at breakneck speed while the population in rural areas is in general falling sharply. There are many reasons for these trends, but above all the cities in many areas offer better infrastructure (digital, mobility, healthcare, social). This development has been observed for many years and is already having wide-ranging consequences: while rural regions are in general falling further and further behind, in the cities rents are high and there is a pressing need for housing. The political response has been to impose rent controls and step up housebuilding.  In cities such as Barcelona residential capsules with a living area of 3 m² and communal areas are taking shape – conditions which have long been routine in Hong Kong. So is this likely to be an accelerating long-term trend or will the market resolve everything and attract people back into rural regions at some point for economic reasons? It’s hard to say but what we do need to do today is deal with the strong population growth in cities.

The construction boom and rising rents are resulting in building land becoming ever more expensive and therefore also more economically attractive. Since most city authorities are not exactly flush with cash, offers from the private sector are tempting and it doesn’t take long for a small greenspace or an old playground or sports facility to be snapped up. And when new homes are built there - which means two birds have been directly killed with one stone: fresh money and new living space - what more could you ask for? But how about life quality? In terms of health in particular, life in our burgeoning cities is not exactly beneficial. Short distances result in people exercising less and then there are the harmful effects of higher temperatures, emissions, noise... So it’s good for cities to have recreation spaces where people are also encouraged to pursue sports and exercise. A park of any size, a sports facility or an exercise space, for example.  Such spaces are of the utmost importance, in particular for the health and wellbeing of residents. And both organised and individual sport need appropriate spaces close to where people live and which preferably can be used by all. So cities and municipalities need to establish such spaces and where possible must protect those that already exist.

“Sport in the City” is a current project which is proving very popular in many places. Its aim is to encourage people exercise in existing open spaces. This is a positive initiative which needs to be supported. And this can be done by making available such spaces and backing current sports projects and sport groups. Sport needs sports spaces and this goes for the city too. So there should be a good offering of sports and exercise spaces everywhere - both open spaces and spaces for the pursuit of specific sports.  Naturally it would be best if these were given direct legal protection and could therefore be spared demolition and being sold. But this is unlikely to be possible in the near future. And so every city and municipality is required to retain public sports and exercise areas and to keep them in usable condition. For the benefit of residents. And the latter must also use these facilities. Projects such as “Sport in the City” help with these aims. The many sports enthusiasts should make themselves known and form sports groups and clubs. Because areas that are well frequented are more likely to be retained than ones that are mostly unused and a large sports community is more likely to be noticed than lots of individual sports enthusiasts. And if a sports facility is demolished it is unlikely to be rebuilt - so here once again “prevention” is the order of the day.

Sport and exercise areas in the city are not just places for physical activity. And parks in particular serve a much wider purpose. They are “green lungs” where people can enjoy fresh air and cooler conditions. The recent heatwave in Germany once again illustrated just how hot it can become in inner city areas in particular. And every park and open space can play its part in helping people to cope when the mercury rises. While every tree and plant helps to improve air quality a little.

When planning and redesigning sports and exercise spaces multifunctionality should always be a key consideration.   Facilities on which a variety of sports can be pursued should be preferred to mono-purpose spaces. And spaces on which sport and leisure and recreation activities can be pursued are an even better option. As open spaces are getting smaller and smaller, they need to be shared. However, space should not be too tight. And organised sport should not be restricted so opening times need to be clearly defined.

And what happens if there are no more open spaces for sport and exercise because they have all been built on? In such situations creativity is required. In recent years there have been a host of projects which have entailed building full-size-football pitches and other spaces for sports on rooftops.  Elsewhere, parks and public greenspaces have also been created above residential buildings, supermarkets and industrial premises. If there is no other option it is necessary to adapt to the prevailing conditions, there is always a way.

However, the situation should never arise where ground-level open spaces for sport and activity are no longer available. This is why the administrations and residents of cities need to work together to ensure there is a good exercise space infrastructure and that existing sports areas are protected. Because every city resident should be able to exercise in the open air. This is a basic right that isn’t enshrined in the constitution. But it can only be enjoyed if we remain vigilant.

TT

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