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Beyond the Trail

A recent Planetizen interview on the relationship between park space and active living got me thinking about what spaces inspire physical activity and what spaces discourage it.

In my old apartment complex, the indoor fitness centers were jammed while the nearby riverside walking trails were desolate, despite nearly perfect year-round weather.  Why? The trails were perceived as unsafe because they were completely isolated from view.

Diana DeRubertis | June 12, 2010, 5pm PDT
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A recent Planetizen interview on the relationship between park space and active living got me thinking about what spaces inspire physical activity and what spaces discourage it.

In my old apartment complex, the indoor fitness centers were jammed while the nearby riverside walking trails were desolate, despite nearly perfect year-round weather.  Why? The trails were perceived as unsafe because they were completely isolated from view.

I'm somewhat perplexed by the trend in trail building:  rail trails, urban greenways, trails through state parks, trails through the woods and backcountry.  These may be ideal for bicyclists or for weekend hikes with friends.  But they are not practical places for solo walkers and joggers.

Greenways, trails and ill-defined open spaces often don't work as envisioned because planners fail to consider safety as a paramount issue, especially for women.  Even if crime statistics declare an area safe, it's really the perceived safety that counts.  I am simply not going to step onto a secluded trail (unless, perhaps, it has constant foot traffic). 

The wilderness-like parks seem to be increasingly emphasized at the expense of smaller community parks that provide the right facilities for outdoor exercise. One element overlooked by park planners is the community track or paved walking loop.   In the eastern US, many high school tracks are open to the public; they tend to be safe and well-used.  Out West, school tracks are unfortunately locked and reserved for student use only.   Where school tracks are not an option, walking loops within parks are a good alternative.  These can be placed around baseball diamonds, soccer fields, playgrounds and picnic areas. 

Because park safety depends largely on visibility, walking loops should be within the sightline of other park users as well as passersby.  Ideally, the park would offer a diversity of activities that attract visitors.   It would also be large enough for physical activity but not so expansive that people feel lost.

I'm curious to hear from Planetizen readers about local parks that encourage active living.  What about trails and greenways?  Which seem to be heavily used for recreation and/or transportation?  What makes them work?  

 

Photos:

1) Rail Trail in CT (adwriter/Flickr)

2) Jackson Square, New Orleans (KenSBrown/Flickr)

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