Pilates is Not a Crime


Where I come from, a little green patch of LA by the sea called Santa Monica, the streets and parks are the equal domain of the down-and-out and the well-off alike, the latter of whom are out, more often than not, to exercise. Many of our avenues boast verdant, wide, tree-lined medians perfect for jogging, stretching or -- as is the fashion lately -- being shouted at by hyper-muscular "boot camp" trainers at the crack of dawn. It's that last activity which is causing some consternation around here, with nearby homeowners calling the cops and longtime exercisers asserting their right to do crunches where they please -- and sometimes getting arrested for it. None other than the New York Times today ran a front-page feature about this problem in my neighborhood:

James Birch, a music executive from the neighborhood, is among those Santa Monicans who have not taken well to enforcement of the law, which was passed in the 1970s and, it is believed, was intended to keep vagrants away. After 15 years of working out on the median, Mr. Birch arrived there one day in mid-September and saw five officers. "I went up to them," he recalled, "and said, "˜What's the deal here?' They put up these trendy new yellow signs. The cops just looked at me and said, "˜We've been told by the watch commander that we're supposed to run people off here.' I told them I was going to break the law." So he did. One morning he showed up at the median, video crew in tow, and refused to cease doing situps. The exchange that followed was posted on YouTube. "They let me do it for about three minutes," said Mr. Birch, 63, "and then came over and said: "˜If you continue doing this, I will arrest you. It's not allowed here.' " Though he was arrested, he said, the officers did not handcuff him, to his chagrin. "I asked them to," he said. "But they found out they could only do what was procedurally appropriate." He did get a ticket, though, and now awaits his day in court. "I just want to go and do my push-ups and situps that I have been doing for 15 minutes three times a week for the last 15 years," he said.

So my question is this: who owns the public space, and how strictly should it be controlled? The homeowners who live nearby, or the local residents who want to use it, as loudly and as early as they please? Are Pilates practitioners the new skateboarders? What do you think?

Photo by Monica Almeida/The New York Times.