One thing I love about summer in New York City is the outdoor yoga classes everywhere. When the weather gets warm, in every small patch of green you can find, there’s a yoga studio or fitness facility or health advocacy group that has set up shop in the great outdoors, and you can breathe deeply (though maybe you don’t want to breathe too deeply) while the everyday noise and pollution and excitement and chaos swirl all around you. And it’s not just yoga, and not just in New York: Outdoor fitness classes are a trend all around the country.
In some places, this is becoming a problem. Cities with large numbers of organized outdoor exercise classes have found that ordinary citizens who use city parks for strolling around or relaxing in some other way often dislike these classes. City council and staff members hear complaints about noise, about private instructors profiting from public land, about damage to turf and amenities — the list goes on and on.
As a result, some cities are putting in place policies to regulate commercial use of park space by fitness groups. Last year in Austin, Texas, for example, the Parks and Recreation Department instituted regulations that require fitness groups to purchase six-month permits for $50 if they want to convene a class in the park. Instructors who serve more than four clients per month in the park are required to pay 45 cents per day, per client. The permits limit classes to 34 of the city’s 250 parks. They prohibit participants from attaching exercise equipment to trees, handrails, and other park fixtures, and also from bringing heavy-duty exercise equipment, like tractor tires, ropes, or cables into the park.
As permits go, there’s no norm. What costs $50 in Austin costs $500 in Henderson, Nevada. In Los Angeles, the fee is $60 per hour. Santa Monica’s city council has been considering instituting a permit system as well, after receiving many complaints from non-exercisers wanting to keep the park class-free. Right now, the city is considering an annual fee of about $100, plus a 10 to 15 percent cut of gross receipts (which is similar to what private surf or tennis instructors pay when they use city-owned beaches or courts).
Some fitness instructors feel the fees are unfair—that all taxpayers, including small-business owners, should have a right to use the park space as they like, as long as they’re doing it respectfully. City councils argue that, no matter how respectful an exercise class is, its wear and tear on a park exceeds that of a dog-walker or strolling couple. Others in the fitness industry feel the permits are beneficial—they give classes held in regular places at regular times priority over other activities and protect them from interruption.
So are permits for outdoor fitness classes in public spaces a good idea or a bad idea? I know I want to keep doing my yoga under the sky either way—and I might even pay a little extra for the class if I knew the instructor had a permit fee to cover.
If you are a yoga company that offers outdoor yoga classes, make sure to check out our yoga studio software to schedule instructor times and membership check-in.