Should Boot Camps Be Banned From Parks?

Should Boot Camps Be Banned From Parks?

Fitness “boot camps” are becoming an increasingly common feature within Australian parks. Typically, a personal trainer will charge a modest fee to instruct a small group that gathers in a public park to work out. Sessions usually last about an hour. But as boot camps have grown in popularity, some park users and residents have become annoyed by the noise and competition for space. People have called for the practice to be closely regulated or banned altogether. Is this fair and what are the alternatives?

Boot camp picture from Shutterstock

The Problem With Boot Camps

The trouble is that in some cities such as the Gold Coast, some park users and nearby residents are becoming fed up and complain their parks are “overrun” by boot camps. They want their local councils to do something about it.

Some boot camps have pumping music, training equipment and yelling instructors, which can disturb other park users and nearby residents. Some people also feel that businesses should not profit from public parks — at least not without giving something back to the community.

The Santa Monica City Council in the United States is considering closing down “boot camps” altogether, whereas the Gold Coast City Council, like some other Australian councils, is proposing to regulate them and charge instructors a fee for using public parks and reserves.

Boot camp supporters argue that participants have a right to use public parks, because they pay council rates too. Boot camps also benefit society by making people fitter and healthier. Some have questioned the right of local authorities to regulate park uses. This raises some important questions: Why does conflict occur in parks? Who are parks for? Who should decide what is acceptable behaviour in a park? Do local councils have the right to regulate park use?

What Causes Conflict In Parks?

Researchers have found that conflict can occur in parks for multiple reasons. Park users may see these spaces as appropriate for some activities but not others.

Conflict can also occur because some park activities disturb or disrupt other park users, causing them to change the part of parks they visit, alter the time of day they visit, switch parks altogether, or switch the activities they undertake. Local residents can also be affected by high levels of park use.

Is Conflict In Parks New?

Conflict among park users is as old as parks themselves. Parks began as the hunting preserves of the social elite. Following the industrial revolution, when people flocked into cities from the countryside, urban reformers demanded private estates be opened to the general public to improve the life of residents. London’s favourite parks such as Hyde Park and Regents Park began this way.

In the United States, park designers copied the European model and deliberately created “rural-like” spaces in the city. These parks, which resembled landscaped gardens, were intended as places where people could escape the stresses of urban life, relax, and commune with nature, but also interact with each other. In principle, parks were democratic spaces.

But park designers also regarded early parks as “civilised” spaces for “passive recreation” — activities such as running and ball-games were regarded as ill-mannered and inappropriate. Some early parks developed reputations as places where prostitution, gambling, drunkenness and robbery were common.

Park rangers and park police were created to regulate use, especially activities deemed immoral or offensive. Early Australian parks such as Sydney’s Hyde Park developed rules like “keep off the grass” to prevent park users from damaging park facilities, but also prohibited rude language, gambling, climbing trees, playing musical instruments, bathing, washing clothes and even singing.

Why And How Are Park Activities Regulated?

Regulating activities within parks and managing the behaviour of park users has occurred since the first parks were created. Usually this is done by developing local laws with penalties that apply for breaching park rules. Some rules make perfect sense. Playing golf or flying model aircraft can present a safety hazard for park users.

But other park rules can be discriminatory, excluding some racial or ethnic groups who enjoy particular activities. For example, Latinos in the USA have argued that prohibiting soccer excludes them from parks.

There are alternatives. Researchers have shown that the design of parks can strongly influence how parks are used and can thus reduce conflict. Carefully designing the physical space of parks may encourage some activities but make other activities difficult or unappealing. Subtle design cues can promote better behaviour without the need for fines, penalties or long lists of rules.

The space within parks can also be allocated for particular activities. Playgrounds, dog parks, skateboard parks and community gardens were once derided just as boot camps are today, yet they all have their place. And we can allocate activities according to time of day — designating places where activities are permitted at certain times but not others.

So What Should Be Done About Boot Camps?

At face value, allowing boot camps in parks seems reasonable, especially in an era when public authorities are struggling to combat sedentary lifestyles and obesity. Researchers have found that parks can help people to be more physically active. Boot camps are common in parks in the United States, Canada and United Kingdom and are regulated through permits.

Instructors are required to have insurance and must operate in designated spaces at specific times of the day. Many councils around the world are also installing fitness equipment in parks. So it seems like a logical step to add boot camps to park programing.

At a time when planners and health officials are working to make parks livelier, more inclusive, and spaces that promote physical activity — boot camps surely have their place.

If rock concerts, art exhibitions, movies and food festivals are appropriate in parks — why not boot camps too?

Jason Byrne is Senior Lecturer – Environmental Planning at Griffith University. He has previously received funding from the United Stated National Park Service, and the Queensland Government former departments of Infrastructure and Planning and Environment and Resource Management. He is affiliated with the Better Parks Alliance and is a member of the Planning Institute of Australia, Institute of Australian Geographers, and Association of American Geographers.

The ConversationThis article was originally published at The Conversation. Read the original article.


  • I see no problem with groups of people using the park together to exercise, whether they pay their instructor or not is of no consequence. If it is the loud music and shouting that accompanies some of the more obnoxious groups then create council bylaws to deal with those specific problems

    • Sporting clubs need to book parks for playing and training, so I don’t see how boot camps are any different. Same goes for fairs, circuses, the list goes on. Boot-camp groups (especially ones where it’s a paid instructor) are exactly the same, just smaller.

    • Paying who? Aren’t the people in boot camp already paying to use the park in their rates? Do we need to have every aspect of our lives governed by council regulations?

      • If the instructor is being paid, then they should be paying to use the space, no? Or it should in some way be regulated. Since otherwise he or she is making money using – and denying to others – space others have “paid” (in taxes) to use.

        Basically, someone is using “your” space to make money. I think it at least needs to be looked at.

    • This currently the case. I have to pay a monthly fee for a park permit in order to run a bootcamp. However, the majority of trainers ignore the law, probably because they think no one will ever bother to police the matter. Guaranteed, if you ask a trainer to provide proof of permit they will not have it, or lie about having one. And if they do not have one, you can report them to council.

  • They should be able to use public parks for boot camps for free, as long as no one makes any money from it. If the instructor charges a fee, then no. Same as you can’t just set up a shop on council land without paying rent.

  • I’ve been running bootcamps on council land (public parks and beaches) for over 20 years and believe that all business owners should have to register with local council (providing proof of qualifications and insurance) as well as pay council fees for the use of public space. We currently pay approximately $10,000 a year in council years and believe that it is completely reasonable.

  • So whats to stop a ‘casual’ football/soccer etc. team using these same parks to train in? Infact, they could save money on sporting oval rent/leases by moving to public parks. And what about the ‘dog-walking’ clubs?

    It seems that the use of parks by large organised groups is the issue. We need more public parks so we can nominate ‘active recreation parks’ and ‘passive recreation parks.’

  • I don’t mind boot camps being held in parks, as long as there’s not too much noise and no damage is being done to the park itself. Of course, if there are a lot of trainers and instructors using the same park, then there may need to be some regulation such as organizing times, etc. Other than that, and keeping the music to a minimum (I don’t think it’s needed for outdoor group exercise), I don’t have a problem with it.

  • So the council/government want people to go out get fit fight obesity and so on. Then other people want the council to charge boot camp trainers a fee for using the parks. So then the trainers charge people attending more to pay the fees, which in turn discourages people from going because it is too expensive to go, and then everyone get fat and lazy and the Council spends a shit load of money in advertising to motivate people to get out and do exercises…….looks like a pretty shitty pattern to me…..(although there should be no reason why boot camps need to have music playing during a session)

  • I hate exercise groups at parks. I wouldn’t mind if they didn’t play such loud, boomy music and the instructor didn’t yell so much. They disturb the peace of everyone else around them.

    As for charging them fees? No, I don’t think that’s fair. Everyone pays rates that go towards the park anyway, so they’re getting their use out of it. Plus it would be extremely hypocritical considering the push on leading a healthier lifestyle.

      • Go ahead if you want to. It’s not my fault though when it gets vandalized, smashed up, or taken away.

        Oh, and it’s a stupid analogy anyway. How does individuals using a park for recreation relate in any way to you parking a caravan on it? Parks are for PEOPLE to use. Caravan parks are for caravans.

        • last time i checked, i was a person, so i should have a right to take up all the space i want.

          Anyway, this is the problem with the boot camps, they’re taking up more than their share of the park due to commercial gain.

          • Hell, I pay my strata fees, what’s stopping me setting up a toll booth to the coin-op laundry in my apartment building? There’s nothing in the by-laws prohibiting it.

  • If people have to pay to use Parks for weddings, photo’s and what-not, then why shouldn’t fitness trainers conducting a commercial operation have to pay something also. I’m sure they could just pass the cost onto the grunt’ees and hopefully the money gets used to upkeep/improve the park. Everyone’s a winner.

    Another thought is that I presume these people charging money for classes have the requisite public liability insurance etc… or will we (the taxpayers/ratepayers) be expected to foot the bill should one of the grunt’ees hurt themselves, or worse.. keel over and die from heart attack etc.

    Isn’t that a main reason the wedding people have to pay… to cover things like insurance etc. I don’t know for sure, it’s just what I’ve heard given as a reason.

  • A boot camp at a park, or in someone’s backyard – where ever it is, it will disturb people.
    You choose to live next to a park, with this, you choose to live with the noise that is made from the park, whether it’s kids screaming or people exercising, dogs barking, or sports being played.

  • I think it’s entirely reasonable for councils to charge trainers for running bootcamp sessions. Problem is in WA I know a lot of them just do a flat rate for the year, which is OK if it’s the trainers only job, and they run lots of sessions. Many trainers will only do a few bootcamp sessions per week however, which means it wouldn’t be commercially viable for them. Councils need to take this into account.

  • I used to live next to the City Botanic Gardens in Brisbane for a while.
    Sure enough, almost every morning at 6am, so obnoxious bootcamp would start BLASTING music. I don’t mean having music playing, I mean full vans fitted with stereo systems making it sound like a small club was next door.

    I don’t mind people running bootcamps, I’m all for health and fitness and people bettering themselves. But I think noise should be regulated. At the time I was working nights, so getting home at 5am, just getting to sleep and getting woken up again was hell.

    I’m not sure where I stand on the whole money issue, but I would like to see bootcamps put some funds back into the parks themselves.

  • I do boot camp one or two mornings a week at 6am the other mornings I walk my dog. We don’t have any music and only the instructors voice which he insists we crowd around him when he gives out instructions to keep the noise down. Myself and other dog walkers feel safe on these pitch black mornings that others are there. The 6am session is perfect for me and the others in my group as we all work full time. Why do people complain when parks are there to be used?

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