How to Create ‘Exercise-friendly’ Environments (Spoiler: Network!)

Jogger on former aiport parc Tempelhof in Berlin. Picture by János Balázs

Simone Pekelsma

By Simone Pekelsma, on June 18th, 2014

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That is not what we’d call a news: exercise is important for public health. That is why it is particularly interesting for cities to think about how they can create ‘exercise-friendly’ environments. Between 2011 and 2013, 9 Dutch cities were involved in a pilot study into the creation of exercise friendly public space, including: Almere, Amsterdam (Nieuw-West)Rotterdam, ’s-Hertogenbosch (Rosmalen), Deventer (Voorstad-Oost), Ede (Kenniscampus), Heerhugowaard (Edelstenenwijk), Zoetermeer and Bergen op Zoom (Gageldonk-West). In the Fall of 2013, the Dutch Institute for Sports and Exercise (NISB) published the outcomes of this pilot study into exercise-friendly environments, commissioned by the Dutch Ministry of Health, Wellbeing and Sports (VWS).

By making physical and social improvements in neighbourhoods, the participating cities aimed to solve local problems relating to liveability, safety and health. The improvements included educational activities, resident initiatives and projects organised by neighbourhoods, sports associations, schools and the municipalities.

The pilot study concluded that a combination of physical and social measures are often most successful. If cities want to influence their inhabitants’ behaviour, it is for example not enough to just create exercise-friendly schoolyards. However, an exercise-friendly environment does encourage more people to exercise, which in turn stimulates other target groups to participate as well.

In order for cities to learn exactly how exercise-friendly environments can be created, the Dutch Institute for Sports and Exercisehascomposed a ‘travel guide’, including a 10-step plan. One important finding is that exercise-friendly environments always come about in cooperation with other organisations. Cities need to take a cross-sectoral approach, including new and a diverse set of partners.

Include, Network, Share a Vision, Cooperate. 

This is widely confirmed by an additional study undertaken by TNO (a Netherlands Organisation for Applied Scientific Research),which explicitly looked at the implementation and cooperation process, and monitored and evaluated participating cities in this respect. On the basis of this study, TNO drafted four recommendations:

  1. When social organisations, including residents themselves, are actively involved in the process of creating exercise-friendly environments, this usually produces more effective and sustainable results;
  2. Working on the basis of network structures is better than working in formalised project teams;
  3. In order to create public support, it is important to create a joint vision among all partners involved;
  4. Project managers should be at the centre of things. They should actively try to cooperate with local partners and be able to deal with many diverting interests.

A full and more detailed overview of all recommendations presented by TNO can be found in the following publication: Ontwerpprincipes voor een beweegvriendelijke omgeving (in Dutch).

Via the URBACT National Dissemination Point in The Netherlands



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