Canada Games Centre fitness enthusiasts who find an hour on an exercise bike is too long away from the couch and TV, take heart.
At their request, the installation of cable hook-ups and a floor-plan design for a “cardio theatre,” four TVs and, potentially, couches, are near completion, says games centre manager Art Manhire.
“I’ll be really unhappy if they go ahead with it,” says regular wellness centre user Sue Jones (not her real name).
“It’s one of the reasons I choose that place over the (other) gyms, because I don’t want to be bombarded with the TV.”
But after a consultation with some 170 users, which presented several proposed configurations, many have responded with enthusiasm, says Manhire.
“It’s not that different from art on the wall,” says Manhire. “If you want to look at it, it’s there. If you don’t want to look at it, don’t.”
For some, a physical workout is a time to relax with their thoughts.
Others need mental or visual stimulation to occupy their minds.
While those on elliptical trainers, treadmills and bikes are currently enjoying a view of skaters on the rink below, they will soon be in for weeks of staring at a cement floor, when the ice is taken out for the summer season.
Everyone who exercises has different “needs,” says Manhire, who studied the philosophy of physical education before assuming management of the centre.
The priority is to help the estimated 500 to 600 daily users get fit, he says.
“They have the option of seeing something that will help them continue doing whatever they’re doing for an extended period,” says Manhire.
The TVs will be “grouped” in two areas, so those who do not want to see them will still have TV-free areas, he says, adding that users will listen with headsets only.
“How naïve,” retorts Jones, a marketing expert. “I would suggest that they sit near a TV and try not to look at it for half an hour. I guarantee that even if they don’t want to at all, they will look and get caught up in it. It is in our genetics to look at something that moves.”
When wellness centre staff asked regular user Joanne Stanhope which of three floor plans with TVs she liked best, she wouldn’t answer.
“I was just mad at it, and so I didn’t decide,” says Stanhope, who feels the TVs and couches are an unreasonable extravagance for the cash-strapped centre.
“I think, mainly, because we go there for an attitude of getting fit, and I think it’s important for me when I go, being aware of what my body is doing, celebrating, working through the pain. It de-focuses to a social situation, and de-focuses from what we’re trying to do.”
Earlier this year, Jones sustained an injury that makes her hesitant to walk on icy sidewalks.
In her neighbourhood, one of the newest suburban areas of the city, it takes up to a half hour to walk to a park with her two young children.
Raised on a farm, she is accustomed to building her body doing “real work.”
Although she admits driving a car for several kilometres in order to ride a stationary bike is an artificial way to keep off weight and rehabilitate her injury, she is attracted to the convenience of the centre and that, unlike private gyms downtown, it is a distraction-free exercise environment.
“I know it will sound absolutely ridiculous to most of the population out there, because most of the population is addicted to TV,” says Jones.
“They can’t do without it. They’ve got to feed their addiction. I want to tune into my body. I don’t want to tune out.
“It’s always people who want something that get a choice, but the people who don’t never get a say.”
The desires of the minority are often disregarded in urban design, concurs Richard Harris, a professor of urban geography at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario.
Harris, who has studied suburban development post-Second World War to present, often sees students reading or listening to music while he works out at the campus gym.
The presence of television sets in the wellness centre may serve as a “carrot” for those who are reluctant to get off the couch, he says.
Their reasons for needing TV are only a small part of the greater dilemma, which is more likely the fact that suburban sprawl creates a lifestyle in which residents cannot incorporate meaningful, productive exercise into their work and play.
The vehicular migration to a big-box facility in order to work out is a “profound paradox,” says Harris.
It doesn’t sound as though Whitehorse planners have caught onto more progressive thinking about the kind of urban development that should be encouraged, he said.
Often referred to as “smart growth” or “new urbanism,” cities like Toronto and Vancouver have succeeded in diversifying neighbourhoods to accommodate walking, biking, efficient mass transit and mix greener residential housing with shops, workplaces and recreational areas.
But city planners and residents often resist raising residential densities, says Harris.
Copper Ridge, one of the newest developments, contains some of the largest suburban residences in Whitehorse —housing some the smallest families and the most vehicles.
There is little park space and there are no back alleys.
Suburbanites lead far more private, isolated lives, and their time is far more consumed with commuting to and from work, says Harris.
Neighbourhoods have lost much of their vibrancy because, unlike a half century ago, entire families vacate for work, school and daycare.
The debate continues as to whether these designs shape behaviour, or merely reflect a lifestyle that North America has been building on since the end of the war, says Harris.
But, owing largely to a greater number of ethnic groups, changing values and more dissent, Harris insists North American cities are becoming less, not more, homogenized.
“If there’s a difference now … it’s that I think there’s probably less consensus about what’s desirable.”