Playground Ban Can Make It Hard To 'Make New York Your Gym'

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Last month the city’s health and parks departments launched “Make New York Your Gym,” an effort to get more residents to take advantage of the array of physical activities available in the city, particularly in its parks.

Of course, some of us have for years been making New York parks our gym–quite literally. Beating the crowd by heading there early in the morning, we do incline or decline pushups with our feet on the benches, step-ups on the stairs, triceps dips off the curb, and pull-ups, chin-ups and leg lifts using the empty equipment at the playground. (Check out this guy, who’s a little more successful at it than most of us.)

In the past couple weeks, however, there’s been a lot of attention to the fact that these latter exercises are illegal: Adults without children are not permitted in playgrounds in city parks. There have been a couple highly publicized cases of police officers actually enforcing this rule. It’s not clear how often it is enforced, and there’s no evidence of a crackdown, but the subject generates surprisingly strong emotions.

On one side are parents who fear the poverbial Creep In The Park, or more realistically, that teenages and young adults will monopolize the playground to the exclusion of the kids it was built for. It would indeed be awkward to be teaching your toddler how to use the twisty slide while this dude is going for the gold on the same playground.

On the other are childless adults who wonder why their mere presence on a playground bench should be a fineable offense. Most people seem to agree that an absolutist enforcement of the law is not warranted, but that some regulation is apropriate.

There are other options for some of us who use playgrounds as gyms. Several dozen city parks contain dedicated fitness equipment like chin-up bars, parallel bars and push-up stands. There are also sometimes wood or metal sit-up platforms that, if nothing else, will familiarize you with the location of your coccyx. If you really hit these hard, maybe you can look like this.

But not all parks have these items. Some parks have actual fitness centers in them offering free weights and machines, although these centers do cost a little money to join, get crowded fast and have limited hours. The fitness center at my park, Williamsbridge Oval, has been closed for many months as the park undergoes a stunning renovation.

(Williamsbridge Oval is the park where last week a piano that had been left out as part of a citywide music program called Sing for Hope was stolen, appearing to confirm every stereotype about the Bronx and New York City. It turned out Parks employees had accidentally thrown the piano out. A good Samaritan donated a new piano and a crew of virtual strangers from my neighborhood hauled the new piano from Midtown back to Norwood. So much for stereotypes.)

In the town where I grew up the city pool dedicated 10 minutes of every hour to an “adult swim,” where everyone under age 18 had to exit the pool so the grown-ups could do a few laps without the risk of being cannonballed. Similarly, if every New York City park can’t have its own little adult fitness area, maybe the playground could be adult-friendly for a couple hours in the early part of each day. After all, do we want to run the risk of scenes like this playing out in the subway instead?

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