Public gym stations in Beijing and Quito

Rosa María Torres

One of the most fascinating things I saw in Beijing the first time I visited China, in 2001, were the fitness equipments installed in public spaces: sidewalks, streets, alleys, parks, gardens, parking lots, markets, supermarkets, bus stops.

The gym stations were used all day, starting early in the morning. They were meant for the elderly and they were in fact the most regular users. But there were people of all ages and conditions. Housewives left their shopping bags on the floor while exercising. Men wearing suits left their briefcases aside. And school students their backpacks. Bicycles were of course all over the place. 

I could not see - or understand - any sign about time limit, but it was evident that there was one. People left the machines without anyone having to tell them. In fact, I did not see anyone supervising the use of the machines.

Several things fascinated me.

- The focus on the elderly and on physical exercise.

- The democratization of autonomous outdoors workout. Gym as a public service offered to the people, incorporated to daily life and daily chores.

- Trust in people's capacities and will to use those equipments in a responsible manner, to take good care of them, and to share them with others.
Photo: El Comercio, Quito
Ten years later, in 2011, I was happy to learn that the concept was being adopted in Quito. Dozens of parks would be furnished with 'inclusive gym equipments', as they were called (a terrible name, by the way). 

Over the past few years, the idea has spread in many Latin American cities. The internet is full of images of gym equipments in parks for the elderly and for all ages. They adopt all sorts of names. ('Parques biosaludables' - 'biohealthy parks' - is one of them, also a terrible name).

In 2013 I visited one of these parks in Quito. Four machines installed in a middle class neighborhood, and adults enjoying them. I talked with some of them. They said they had never used a gym machine before.

A few months later I returned to the park. I wanted to write a note about it. The place was dismantled. A young couple told me that the equipment lasted only a few weeks. Some artifacts had been stolen; others were broken and taken away. 

Photo: La Hora, Quito
Other parks and equipments have faced similar situations. Municipal authorities have always had a hard time to maintain public spaces and public goods. Citizen culture in Quito - and in Ecuador in general - has many problems.

Good ideas can be imported. Culture - citizen culture - cannot. It must be built in every place. How do people learn to value public goods and take care of them? What type of information, education and example are necessary at home, in schools, at work, through the media and the political system?

To learn more
Nueve máquinas para ejercitarse al aire libre, El Comercio, 11 agosto 2011
Parques se vuelven gimnasios, La Hora, 25 marzo 2012
68 parques de Quito ya tienen los gimnasios al aire libre, El Comercio, 19 junio 2012
400 equipos de gimnasia para 160 parques, Prensa Quito Alcaldía, 18 julio 2013
Roban equipos de gimnasia en tres parques de Quito, El Universo, 17 junio 2014

Related texts in this blog
Quito: Encuesta de Cultura Ciudadana

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