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Johannesburg City Parks and Zoo already have six outdoor green gyms installed, and more are on the way.

MMC for Chris Vondo tries one of the machines at an outdoor gymJOBURG residents have given their stamp of approval to City Parks' outdoor gyms, prompting the utility to add the fitness equipment to other parks.

Public support has been phenomenal, says Bulumko Nelana, the new managing director of Johannesburg City Parks and Zoo. The custodian of the environment and conservation has endorsed the rollout of the free-to-use outdoor gyms in public parks as part of the Joburg 2040 vision to encourage healthy lifestyles and increase social cohesion.

Speaking about the Outdoor Green Gyms, Nelana says: "City Parks is championing the initiative. The long-term vision is to ensure that every flagship park in the city is fitted with an outdoor gym to complement the existing playground equipment traditionally found in a park.

"The aim is to encourage the whole family, from gran and her senior citizen friends, to mum and dad and their teenage children, to use the exercise equipment in the city's trim parks while the younger children enjoy the traditional playgrounds on offer," he says.

Six outdoor gyms in Joburg

Six green gyms have been installed already – at the Petrus Molefe Eco-Park in Soweto; Diepsloot Park in the far north of the city; Mushroom Farm Park in Sandton; Krematart Park in Eldorado Park; Protea Glen Park in Soweto; and Claremont Park in the west. Four other sites are in the pipeline for this fiscal year: in Zola, Lehae, Meadowlands and Sophiatown.

About the thinking behind this initiative, Nelana explains: "One of the outcomes of the Growth and Development Strategy consultation was that residents wanted a liveable city that encouraged family-friendly recreation.

"The outdoor gyms directly address this as they are environmentally friendly; are accessed at no cost; cater for people who are unable to afford gym memberships; and, are aimed at increasing the quality of life of citizens."

Installing the outdoor gyms includes employing a dedicated security person at each facility, who doubles as a trainer. "To an extent, this project stimulates job creation as well, through the local assembling of the equipment and the management of the outdoor gym parks."

And the public has shown its support with their feet. Some facilities, such as the park in Diepsloot, are filled with users during peak hours, with people queuing to use the equipment. A recent survey found that regular users lived near the parks, yet many respondents also indicated that they were prepared to travel to get their daily dose of fitness.

Job creation and healthy communities

The outdoor gym caters for everyone, from teenagers to the elderlyThe number of users varies, averaging 80 during peak hours. Regulars prefer to work out in the morning. "The benefits of rolling out the green outdoor gyms are far reaching – from fostering healthy communities, to stimulating job creation and building civic pride," says Nelana. "It is a model that serves as a blueprint when we talk about rolling out parks benchmarked on award-winning global standards."

An added benefit is found in the City's health services bill, which should fall as people become healthier. "The main objective was to introduce outdoor gyms to help address concerns of growing obesity and other non-communicable diseases that can be controlled or managed through exercise. City Parks was able to determine from green gym enthusiasts that this initiative is a resounding success."

For their part, the users are delighted that the government has brought gym to people who cannot afford fee-charging facilities. "I used to walk slowly before using the gym but now my pace has improved. This is a wonderful idea; I just wish it could be countrywide," says one user.

Private sector partnerships

In choosing a suitable location for an outdoor gym, Nelana says, City Parks looks at the site where it will make the biggest impact for the most number of potential users, in partnership with a fully funded donor. "We are therefore extending an appeal to the private sector to contact our offices to collectively make healthy living accessible to all in the city, while simultaneously offsetting your business carbon footprint."

When it comes to top quality parks, Joburg has always been at the forefront, and trim parks have been in place since the early 1970s in Pieter Roos Park in Parktown and Rhodes Park in Kensington. But City Parks has realised that what residents want is what they will find in a traditional keep fit gym.

"Our brief therefore was to ensure that next-generation equipment was commissioned to accommodate the harsh outdoors. And so far this model has been very successful, particularly in areas such as Diepsloot, where residents are utilising these pieces in their numbers."

City Parks will continue to deliver the best holistic outdoor recreation experience on offer, at no cost, to its residents in Joburg.