The city's proposal to put $80,000 fitness equipment in Victoria Park has some in a fit snit.
If all goes according to the plan, Victoria Park in the Strathcona neighbourhood will benefit from the installation of $80,000 in fitness equipment by next fall, says Ward 1 councillor Brian McHattie. The project was initiated last summer after a Strathcona community member indicated a desire for exercise facilities in the park.
Not everyone in the Strathcona neighbourhood thinks the proposal to install fitness equipment is sound, but McHattie says plans are already in motion to install the equipment in the park. The only holdup: funding.
Currently, there’s about $35,000 available. The project will necessitate a further $45,000 to complete, bringing the price tag to about $80,000.
McHattie said the city is currently checking to see if there's money in the area rating fund or within public works to offset the cost.
Two fitness stations
The $80,000 would be used to create two separate fitness stations within the park. On the west side of the park, there will be a gym-like environment featuring four machines: a chest press, a leg press, an elliptical machine and an airwalker that looks like an elliptical, but minus the arm-exercising function).
In the east side of the park, there will be a more dynamic fitness installation to encourage people to do more circuit-based body weight exercises, such as pushups, squats and lunges. That installation will include raised platforms and a flatboard.
That configuration was decided upon after a public meeting last week in which community members showed "overwhelming support" for the two separate set-ups, said landscape architect and project manager Cynthia Graham.
During the meeting, said Graham, some people indicated they would only use the gym equipment, while others stated a preference for the circuit-based installation.
The goal of the project is to encourage an increase in physical activity in the neighbourhood — or as Graham put it, "to increase the opportunity for people to get outside and do stuff!"
It’s not the first time that the city has installed fitness equipment in a city park to encourage an increase in physical activity within the community. Both Jackie Washington Park and Woodlands Park already have similar installations.
While no formal studies have been completed to indicate whether or not the equipment at Jackie Washington Park or Woodlands Park has increased fitness within the community, Graham said she is encouraged by anecdotal support for their use. She also cites a 2011 U.S. study that found that the installation of fitness equipment has a positive effect on how often people use public parks.
Graham worked in concert with a physical activity specialist from the public health department to figure out what kinds of equipment were available to be purchased, and what served the overall goal of increasing physical activity.
Limited uses for the machines
The machines aren't exactly like the kind you'd find in a gym, however. The chest press and leg press are fixed —they do not allow users to increase or decrease the amount of weight lifted, or increase or decrease the level of resistance.
Graham explains that the reasons for that limitation are practical. Machines that offer that kind of capability would require maintenance.
Resident Wayne MacPhail says the plan is "illogical" and a "waste of money." He has specific concerns about the overall health benefit of installing fixed-weight machines.
"The benefit comes from that ability — to increase or decrease weight," he said. And when that option is absent, he added, the machines are more like toys, "a Fisher Price gym."
I'm sitting here with a smile on my face, I have to admit," said Stuart Phillips, a kinesiology professor at McMaster University.
"I applaud the initiative, but that type of equipment is pretty specific and limited in what it is designed to do. These four machines don't seem like the right combination to me."
Phillips concurs that a weight machine that doesn't allow for a change in resistance or weight is "not going to be overly useful."
MacPhail, an avid runner currently training for the Around the Bay 30K race in March, also queried the logic of putting walking machines in an outdoor park. "Why do we have two walking machines in a walking park?"
Phillips, too, seemed baffled by the selection and sees little point of a walking machine in a park.
"I might spend more on things that people would use en masse," said Phillips. He suggested a walking track with fixed measurements to indicate distance. "People like to know how far they go."
Both McHattie and Graham emphasized community involvement in the proposal — from start to finish.
"The community wants more, not less," said Graham.
The community may have driven the interest in the installation, but that doesn’t mean the plans make sense, said MacPhail.
"I could have asked for cherry-flavoured crystals in the water system, but that doesn’t mean it’s a good idea."
He feels there’s a cheaper and more effective way to encourage fitness in the community.
"It would be way cheaper to organize a neighbourhood walking group," said MacPhail.