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UNSOLICITED: Fitness Parks

Updated: Mar 9, 2021

Original photograph by Fitsum Admasu


If the piece on smart parks I wrote some five years ago had been (by a very tall chance) taken to heart at one of the preeminent fitness companies, the foresightful executive responsible would be watching the world today with the mixed feelings of someone uniquely prepared for a terrible scenario.

A few (updated) facts:

  • Physical fitness reduces anxiety (exercising is the most popular method of stress relief for Americans aged 25-44), boosts immunity and (unsurprisingly) reduces obesity-influenced COVID mortality.

  • The figure will hopefully grow when the virus is fully controlled, but in January 2021, only 21% of Americans were comfortable visiting a gym.

  • According to the UK Department of Health, open windows reduce the risk of COVID by 70%.

  • Finally, if one needed a blunter business case - 4 in 5 surveyed by ClassPass in 2020, reported they’d take an outdoor class (coinciding with a 400% increase in such classes) - the attitude that’s expected to extend into 2021.

In short, the idea made sense before COVID, but if the reports of the virus’ cyclical nature are remotely accurate (or until the current consumer attitudes are reversed) here’s something to consider.


In short

  • A partnership between city, health/ hospitality/ insurance provider & tech

  • Smart solar pathways, split into lanes by LED, always run-ready

  • Geofenced sponsored media content to support physical & mental exercises

  • Commercial platform to discover brands through micro-targeted products

  • Member benefits - open air classes, heated gazebos, individual challenges & rewards


The basics

Original photograph by Harry Gillen

How, on God’s green earth, millennia after people first decided that bench pressing is more fun in company, and almost 150 years after the introduction of the electric street lighting, do most of our parks still feel relatively unsafe and remain largely unused after dark (unless for purposes few would advertise)?

A partnership between city planners (offering land), a health/ fitness/ hospitality or health insurance provider (‘Host’ henceforth for short) and a tech player, could bring together existing technologies and services to create a tiered experience with the public and private components.

Smart pathways

Apart from being ecologically advantageous, smart pathways would increase the park safety, capture and channel solar energy, remain (mostly) snow and ice free and ready for action year round. Solar Roadway tiles, for example, contain LEDs that could also alert runners to obstructions ahead and generally manage athlete flow, visually splitting pathways into lanes and ensuring safe distancing (if ever required). Depending on the location, the surface may also generate enough green energy to power the rest of the park facilities.

Media content

To make the experience more engaging, the park could offer media content - either through a dedicated app or a free section of the Host’s existing app, available to park visitors via complimentary Wi-Fi.

Free within the park geofence, the content could both - enhance the experience and natively promote a number of subscription-based services:

  • Spotify/Apple Music could offer access to a range of inspiring tracks

  • A fitness specialist - remote no-equipment classes and jogging companionship

  • A wellness specialists - meditation and mental health exercises

  • A bookstore - a short range of top audio books (I, myself, jog best to Pinker)

Wi-Fi registration could also allow the park to remember the previously played tracks/classes and offer them and/or similar available assets upon repeat visits.

Commercial partnerships

Park’s cashless kiosk could offer a range of products, highly curated specifically to compliment the outdoor fitness experience - from wardrobe essentials and season-appropriate running shoe models, to post-workout snacks and drinks.

Highly limited in range, these wouldn’t be full pop-up retail points, but rather a highly considered platform for engagement opportunities. Coupled with expert advice, the partnerships could become a vehicle for brand discovery.


Members’ experience

Original photograph by Benjamin Klaver

While the parks would remain public, the Host’s clients could have access to a range of additional benefits.

  • 1:1 and small group classes, organised outdoor or in private heated gazebos

  • Limited equipment, stored in individually sealed, automatically disinfected lockers

  • Access to workout-relevant information picked up by smart pathways (e.g. gait analysis)

  • Individual daily challenges, based on workout history

  • Rewards, based on individual performance - from moving up the local leaders’ board to tangible encouragements from the park’s commercial partners


Transforming something iconic, like Central Park in NYC or The Regent’s Park in London, would face considerable headwind. Creating a new public space by restoring a less fortunate piece of land, may evoke different sentiments from the local residents and developers alike and engage consumers in a profoundly new way.

A safe, smart park, available to anyone around the clock to work out or just clear head. With media and physical infrastructure that makes outdoor fitness a viable option to a wide range of consumers. A feasible alternative to hotel gyms for tourists. A vehicle for great product and service discovery.

Can life get any better?

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