Visionary “green fitness space” may replace old skate park

The idea behind the recently proposed “Green Fitness Space” in Grant Park is to start a revolution. From personal wellness to community participation to corporate health care, the lifestyle concept designed by Chicagoans Omari Jinaki and Ross Arena aims to change how the world thinks about staying in shape.

Jinaki and Arena presented their idea to a meeting of the Grant Park Conservancy and the Grant Park Advisory Council on Northerly Island in February. If the proposal gains approval, it could mean that the old skate park near the intersection of Balbo Ave. and Columbus Dr. will become a thing of the past, replaced by a multipurpose facility covering 36,000 square feet.

Besides offering calisthenic-based exercise equipment, the space will boast an organic garden, a staff of professional fitness instructors and, most importantly, an all-inclusive free admission policy.

“Health is like a basic human right,” says Jinaki. “Nobody should have to pay to be physically active.”

Jinaki combines a passion for fitness with an Ivy League MBA and a knack for organizational excellence. His ability to lead projects has helped him succeed as an associate director at Ogilvy & Mather’s New York office, an ad agency where he worked until returning to his hometown of Chicago last year.


The former skateboard park where advocates want to build a Green Fitness Space (photo: Daniel Patton)

Upon arriving back in the Windy City, he noticed a lack in the type of public fitness areas that had become part of his everyday life in the Big Apple. He was so impressed with New York’s community-building effects that he actually helped secure and design one for his

Inwood Hill Park neighborhood with funds from the city’s discretionary budget last year. He was inspired to do the same thing in Chicago.

He presented the idea to Bob O’Neill, President of the Grant Park Conservancy, who not only recommended the unused location of the former skateboard park, but also recognized the concept as “a new idea that’s never been done anywhere else in the world.”

“It’s part of a bigger picture,” he says. “We want to do something that really attracts people to get healthier. We want this to be a beautiful space.”

The location is exactly what Jinaki had envisioned, largely because it is accessible to people “who would normally feel intimidated by sports where you have to buy equipment,” he says.

Arena, who earned a PhD from Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine and heads the Department of Physical Therapy at UIC, has long advocated for national wellness. When he heard about Jinaki’s concept in a local newspaper, he recognized it as a potential shot in the arm for America’s quality of life.

He incorporates public health and wellness into a community outreach class that has been part of UIC’s curriculum for years. In addition to enlightening students, the class helps him perfect the method for bringing fitness to the masses. He is also growing an organic garden on campus, one that he hopes will become the model for what ultimately grows in Grant Park.

The presentation was so well received that O’Neill has since asked the firm that designed the skateboard park, Altamanu, to sketch out a few ideas for the green fitness space. He hopes to present those to the public within the next few months.

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