Do you want to build a snowman? (Thanks to my six-year old daughter and Disney’s Frozen, I can’t keep this song out of my head.) While snow play is a great winter activity, most of the country has had a brutal winter, and I imagine at this point your answer to that question is a resounding “NO.” It's springtime now, and we’re all looking forward to having a little more fun in the sun.
As your resident “shared use super hero,” something that excites me is all of the many different ways and places physical activity can happen. When I think about shared use, I think of all types of opportunities to play and be physically active. Some of the most exciting shared use opportunities occur when access is provided to places that are traditionally closed to the public or may not be seen as traditional places to be physically active.
Shared use efforts got their start with making school space more accessible, and great work continues to occur on this front. In South Carolina, advocates are working to have a sample policy drafted by the School Board Association to assist school districts in adopting shared use policy to support shared use agreements. Other communities are moving beyond schools. For example, our partners in Ohio continue to shine through their work on the incorporation of hospitals in shared use, as they explore the possibilities for nonprofit hospitals to open up walking trails and community spaces for use by the public. Mississippi continues to thrive by incorporating faith-based institutions in the realm of shared use implementation. All of this work is so inspiring, and it keeps me thinking about this strategy and encourages me to think outside the box.
So what other kinds of creative places could shared use occur? Have you ever considered your local mall? Think about it: people go there to meet all types of shopping needs, so why not meet their physical activity needs as well? In fact, I’d like to share with you an exciting advancement that’s happening in my very own back yard of Los Angeles, CA . Something kind of revolutionary is happening in a South Los Angeles community -- the mall host free exercise classes for the community three days a week. Anyone can join these now very popular one hour classes. Tuesday night is Zumba, Thursday night is a cardio-kick class, and my personal Saturday morning ritual is now to participate in the Hatha yoga class.
Shared use thinking outside the box: Yoga class at a South Los Angeles shopping mall
I’ve been watching as the popularity of these classes has grown over the past two years, and how people of all fitness levels commit to these classes and reach a variety of health and wellness goals, and I've been growing more curious about how the idea came about. Utilizing mall space to foster a healthy lifestyle is a fascinating idea. Many of us have heard of mall walking programs, where community members gather to walk the mall for exercise. These programs vary across the country, but I think viewing mall space as a place to diversify the physical activities that can be done has the potential to have a positive impact on community health.
In LA, Mall Manager Sharon King stated, “It became clear to the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza Mall Management team that we could make a real, positive impact in the community through promoting healthier lifestyles.“ It is a win-win for the mall if they can support a healthier community, and give people more reasons to come to the mall and feel positive about it. While we are all anxious for warmer weather think about what an asset a space like a mall could serve during the colder, wintery months to provide physical activity.
At the end of the day, shared use is about increasing physical activity opportunities and there are multitudes of ways to increase physical activity levels in communities. So I challenge you to innovative ways that shared use is taking place in your communities. Let’s be creative about how we play because you never know what might actually work.