Recently, there was an article in the BBC featuring a community project dubbed the ‘vertical gym’. The project was built in Caracas’s Barrio La Cruz slum in 2003. The location, known as Bello Campo, was formerly a ‘makeshift soccer field’ that had not been maintained. In a densely populated area lacking in public resources and available space, the municipality of Chacao worked with urban think-tank, also based in Caracas, to develop a facility that could expand the existing soccer field and better support the needs of the barrio. The project resulted in a gymnasium with facilities that were organized vertically over four levels to maximize the small site and allow for much more than the original soccer field.
With everything from a dance studio and climbing wall, to a soccer pitch, basketball court and running track, the gym has given people living in Barrio La Cruz a much needed community resource, that is about much more than just getting exercise.
‘When a kid with a basketball and a dream becomes another victim of barrio crossfire, something has to be done. We cannot stop the purchasing, selling, and firing of bullets. But we can create novel spaces, nurturing values such as fair play, tolerance, and civic community; where youths measure up one another in sportive competition rather than in violent street fights.’
- urban think-tank
The project has been a huge success for Barrio La Cruz with more than 15,000 visitors to the gym per month, the place is active throughout the day and into the night. Since opening in 2003, the barrio has seen a 30% reduction in the local crime rate. The vertical gym model has been applied to a handful of gymnasium facilities by urban think-tank recently constructed in other communities around the world.
I hope that this kind of pro-active approach to solving urban problems continues to grow, where the resources necessary for a community to support itself are brought to the people and places that need it most, in a way that meets the specific needs of the local residents.