Mini sports grounds in Beijing energize urban public spaces
By Tao Xing  ·  2022-12-19  ·   Source: NO.51 DECEMBER 22, 2022


Residents exercise at a Zip sports ground in Tongzhou District in Beijing on November 5 (COURTESY PHOTO)  

Beijing is creating mini sports grounds in its communities and parks. The sports grounds usually cover about 30 to 40 square meters and feature stationary bicycles, hopscotch lines, and even digital screens with online fitness and sports programs, among other things.   

These grounds are part of the Zip project, which aims to install sports facilities in urban public areas. "Zip means compress. We try to zip various sports programs into limited space," Li Changlin, Executive Director of Dream Deck, a Beijing-based urban planning and smart technology company, told Beijing Review"Of course, it doesn't mean that Zip limits the size of the public space, which can be up to 300 square meters and include more facilities," Li added.  

Vitalize public spaces  

The vitalization idea came from the Beijing Municipal Government, which released the Beijing Urban Renewal Action Plan (2021-25) in August 2021 to promote urban construction and development, and improve lifestyles. The plan calls for strengthening the landscape design and construction of public spaces in neighborhoods.  

Li's group presented the Zip concept to build sports grounds in public spaces, which won the authorities' approval. Endowing public spaces with sports functions can be an effective choice to attract more residents to engage in regular exercise, Li said.  

So far, with the support of district-level governments, six Zip sports grounds have been put into place in Beijing. "The feedback has justified our idea," he said. Every time they inspect the grounds, resident participation is high. "The size of the sports grounds is one aspect, while encouraging residents to use them is another issue," Li said.  

The Zip sports grounds are mostly set in residential communities or nearby parks, allowing residents to reach them quickly and easily. The Zips also provide different sports equipment to fit different age groups. "We have a scope of sports equipment, such as horizontal bar and stationary bicycles, and we choose them in accordance with the venue's practical use," Li explained.  

Along with the regular sports facilities, he said, digital screens provide more choices, including some 40 to 50 online sports programs. For example, residents can play ball games onscreen or follow onscreen instructions for a full workout, showcasing the importance of technology in promoting sports activities. In addition, residents can input related body index information and receive sports suggestions. "The elderly, parents and children can join in Zip sports programs at the same time,Li said.  

He also noted that the long-term operation of the Zip grounds is a problem that needs to be solved. For example, maintenance and electricity are needed. "We are considering placing vending machines in the sports grounds so that the revenue can cover part of these fees," he explained.   

"In general, we hope the sports grounds can help enrich the functions of public places and inject more vitality into them, and that residents can experience happy moments there," Li added.  

Sports for good 

"We also hope to increase resident sports venue areas and promote health and fitness," he said.  

According to the Statistical Communiqué of the People's Republic of China on the 2021 National Economic and Social Development, released by the National Bureau of Statistics on February 28, there were 3.97 million sports venues as of the end of 2021 in the country. Sports venues totaled 3.41 billion square meters and the per-capita sports venue area was 2.41 square meters, which was a marked increase from the 1.05 square meters in 2011. However, the per-capita area was still small compared with that of the United States and Japan, which have about 18 and 20 square meters respectively, according to Li. 

There are many small spaces scattered around cities that are usually ignored, he said, adding that if cities could make good use of them by installing sports facilities, it would help increase the total sports venue area and resident participation in sports. 

The per-capita sports venue area in China is expected to reach 2.6 square meters in 2025, according to a guideline aimed at upgrading the national fitness public service system released on March 23. To promote the development of outdoor sports, the guideline encourages local governments to set up sports facilities at available spaces such as parks, hillsides and riverbanks.  

The country will increase the supply of basic services and the accessibility of related venues to boost public participation in fitness and sports, the document read. It expects a regular physical exercise participation rate of 38.5 percent in 2025 and 45 percent by 2035. 

"China has been improving its national fitness infrastructure in recent years and these national plans could give our project more impetus and potential," Li said, noting that his group hopes to promote the project in other cities, and has already gotten in touch with several.   

Recently, Li's group also developed a portable Zip plan. If a community wants to experience the Zip sports ground and has a 20-square-meter space, it can join the plan, and Dream Deck will install a portable and reusable version of the sports ground for the community to try for one month. 

"For us, it is also an exploration in combining urban public sphere planning with the national fitness drive. The installment of sports grounds is a way to enhance the vitality of public spaces, while also improving residents’ engagement in fitness," Li concluded.   

(Print Edition Title: Zip Gyms  

Copyedited by Rebeca Toledo 

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