Parks, playgrounds and activity areas are flourishing in Denmark at present. Paid for either by the state, the local muncipality or the citizens themselves, they counteract the urbanisation going on all over the world. We are looking for places where we can come back to basics, and we should preferably benefit from it in more than one way.
”We see a tendency in which urban spaces are designed for a certain purpose. And often this purpose is related to activating the body – and finally to contributing to the general level of health. It applies in various contexts: school yards have to motivate towards physical activity, outdoor fitness equipment is placed in even the tiniest city parks, and architects all over the world are developing new ways to invite movement through architecture.”
Those words come from Kirstine Cool, anthropologist and senior advisor at BARK Consulting in Copenhagen. The office is staffed with a combination of architects, anthropologists, sociologists and journalists, all working with strategic counselling on how to develop everything from a single building to up-scale planning projects for entire cities or municipalities.
One of Kirstine’s primary focuses is how a local community can be the driver of social design. She is thus very close to the demands of the users, and can document an increase in the desire for outdoor activities:
”Health is definitely a theme. Not only do we see a massive pursuit of the ’body’ but we are also acknowledging that we live longer and are expected to develop and reach our full potentials as individuals,” she states.
Longing to get back to nature
Kirstine is supported by Louise Work Havelund, an ethnologist and also a senior advisor at BARK Consulting. She uses the expression ”Instagrammable” in describing the latest tendency to move your training and fitness outside, to a public space. But while pointing out the desire to continously look sharp online as well as offline, she sees another, maybe deeper reason for the growing demand for outdoor activities.
”I think it is linked to the growing urbanisation’ she says. ”People are moving not only from the rural areas towards the larger cities, but also towards the larger provincial towns within the rural areas. This is what we call the ’double urbanisation’. And all the outdoor activity can be seen as a reaction against this growing urbanisation. Basically, I believe people are looking for something they lost. They are longing to reconnect with nature in a raw, simple way”.
To prove her point she takes examples from the latest fashion trends. ”Take the urban lumberjack: big beard, lumberjack shirts, trekking boots, reindeer hides and raw wooden furniture. Or the newest trend, the outdoor survivor vintage look, where your clothes and gear have to look used and slightly trashed. It symbolizes raw authenticity, a ’back-to-basics’ simple life, and enhances the perception of a person in touch with nature,” she smiles.
What comes after physical activity?
On a more practical note, Louise thinks that parks and playgrounds with outdoor activities support the way in which many people now live. The idea of following one particular class each week or committing to joining a sports association is being strongly challenged. Taking a run through the park or working out at a time of your choosing is easier and fits our individualistic lifestyle. Perhaps it also caters to a growing need to simplify and to escape the fixed schedule.
”But in spite of our individualistic training habits we also see alternative, social media organized communities arising around a joint interest – such as running, for instance. So I think it’s very important to emphasise that public areas for training and fitness answer to an individual way of living, but create room for what people really need: nature and community.”
Kirstine Cool nods at the community thought and adds her comment: ”It’s going to be really interesting to see what happens in the future, when maybe the focus is moved from the body to the mind, and truly from the individual to the community. Perhaps, to a greater extent, we will see urban spaces that invite contemplation rather than physical activity?”