York Urbanist

Parks are also for Seniors

Ingrained is the image of a parkette whose obvious intent was to serve the new, young community in Vaughan, ON. Dominant on the landscape are the multi-coloured pipes and laterals of the junior play equipment. But, what happens to the surrounding community will make that dominant facility obsolete in a generation or 10 years. The subdivisions of our bedroom communities provide permanent and stable communities, where parents will homestead. Their children will use the playground park, the community will similarly age and their needs will change. Within twenty years, many of the homes could evolve into empty nests. And what of the needs of the remaining residents?
Much has been researched regarding the recreation needs of seniors. The following compiles some of that research, summarizes parks needs for seniors and offers how parks can be designed to be sustainable for an aging population.
We are prompted today by the Boomer bulge in population that has skewed demographics for their 60 years of existence. Boomers have entered their senior years. “In 2011, the first of America’s Baby Boomers (born between 1946 and 1964) will turn 65. The first Maine, USA 2009-2014 SCORP focus group included participants who held expertise in senior issues. Some of the ideas to come out of that session included having clear, easy to obtain information on outdoor recreation opportunities (including difficulty); having socially interactive recreation offerings available; including a mix of intellectual and physical opportunities; considering cost, transportation, and other barriers; as well as other considerations.
Boomers tended to be better educated than preceding generations, and worked and played hard.
Boomers viewed themselves as younger than their chronological age.
Boomers purchased more upscale goods and services than other age groups.
Boomers tended to overschedule themselves, seeking to pack activity into every hour of the day.
Boomers were less likely to volunteer their time than other age groups.
Boomers wanted to separate themselves from things that made them feel old.
Boomers viewed retirement as only a “mid-life” event, and planned to work part-time, change careers, or start new businesses.”
Stand-alone youth facilities have proven to be less effective in most settings than the inclusion of youth elements in multi-generational facilities. It may be a mistake to treat a new generation of seniors as previous generations have been treated.
In Maine, there is a noticeable decline in participation for most outdoor recreation activities when comparing the 45-54 and 55-64 age brackets. Similarly, participation rates are relatively low in the 65+ group as well. One grouping of outdoor recreation
activities in which senior Mainers participate relatively more is the “viewing/learning activities” including activities such as viewing/photographing birds; sightseeing; gathering mushrooms, berries, etc.; and several other activities. This study showed that walking is a popular activity and that older people prefer to have access to trails and parks close to home.
While the ageing of the Boomers may indicate no need for more park facilities to meet the more strenuous physical activity needs of the population, the fact that the number of people under the age of 25 is expected to remain constant indicates that what is currently available will continue to be used. As Boomers switch to less strenuous activities, their need for more active sport facilities will decrease and the demand for facilities to accommodate individual, less active pursuits will increase. Trails will increase in importance and there will be an increased demand for natural areas. Planning for parks will need to accommodate older people as well as children. Older people need more access to shade, water, restrooms and resting areas. Older park users will also put more importance on safety, quality of maintenance, and contact with the environment.
They will avoid park use during times of extreme temperatures, both hot and cold. Youth needs could be accommodated with temporary facilities or those that could be converted to activities more suited to an older population.
There is evidence that the older adults of the future will prefer intergenerational community recreation services rather than age-segregated programs for seniors. Currently, only 10% of older people are regularly involved in seniors’ centres; most are involved with friends, family and routines that existed prior to retirement. Disabilities were most common among older people, indicating that the proportion of people with disabilities is likely to increase as the population ages.
On June 18, 2002, the Canadian federal government passed Bill C54, the “Act to Promote Physical Activity and Sport”. It provides direction to policies that improve the health and well-being of Canadians by encouraging them to increase their physical activity levels and by reducing barriers to participation. Policies will also increase participation in sport and encourage sport excellence. In April 2002, the Canadian Sport Policy was endorsed by the federal, provincial and territorial governments of Canada. Among its goals are to increase participation in sport, to improve access to sport and to improve excellence in sport.
Every move is a good move, especially for BC’s seniors. Just ask Armstrong’s Suzie Sims, who’s excited about an innovative new program called Seniors Community Parks. They’re kind of like a playground for grownups. “I love the idea, and if seniors and young people can use the park together, that’s even better,” says Sims. “I like the idea of going somewhere to be outside, do stretches and maintain my flexibility and strength.”
Seniors in the Park is a lively and dynamic program which is growing by leaps and bounds as more people learn of this sparkling jewel in Whitewater, Wisconsin. Their literature encourages seniors to: “Discover programs which challenge your mind, enhance your physical being, create new connections, and are just plain fun. Keep your brain growing by learning something new. Attend a presentation or lecture series. Try Chess or a new card game. Every month there is something new to learn or experience at Seniors in the Park. “
“Your health and well being are invaluable. Maintain or improve your health and your outlook with fitness classes like Tai Chi, Zumba, Stretch and Flex, and Gliding. You can also take in a wellness presentation, have your blood pressure checked, get a relaxing massage or enjoy a nutritious and satisfying meal.
You will be pleasantly surprised to find several of your friends already participating at Seniors in the Park. Fun abounds everywhere. From the laughter of the exercise and card groups to the joy of discovering something new on a trip, revitalize yourself surrounded by people having a great time.”
The movement to addressing seniors in parks is on. It has been prompted by this moving Boomer bulge in the demographics of North America. Age related programs are not new, but the programs are changing to address the boomers who refuse to accept that their age will affect them like it affected their parents.
The senior population has already developed their circles of friends; their recreation participation pattern has been developed and their activities have been selected by the time they have reached “seniors age”. In the following table, seniors are further categorized due to their continuing changes in life.
Typology / Demographic

Parks related needs

  1. Responsibility to two younger generations: their children; and grandchildren
  2. Often has more than one grandchild
  3. Uses child care equipment
  4. Usually drives to event places
  1. Shelter / shade
  2. Play equipment for various ages
  3. Benches; picnic tables;
  4. Facilities for interaction between generations
  5. Information related to nearest health centre
  6. Public telecommunications
  7. Public washrooms
Over 50
  1. The Sandwich Generation: Responsibility to two or more generations – younger and older
  2. Greatest earning decade
  3. Children have overtaken physical capabilities
  4. Subject to age related chronic diseases
  5. Sport still part of social interaction – sport selection was made at earlier age
  6. Limited voluntarism – usually still full-time employed
  7. Generally understand the technologies of younger generations
  1. All the above
  2. Exercise facilities and programs for adults
  3. Paths for walking or running
  4. Near to or association with commercial retail centre preferred
  5. condensed periods of leisure activity caused by location and time of employment
  6. Are open to using new technologies

Over 60
  1. Considering retirement
  2. Most interactive grandparenting years
  3. Early heart related disease period
  4. Possible change of address – moving down
  5. Agility challenges
  6. Sport changing to recreation
  7. Declining or fixed income
  8. Possible increased voluntarism
  1. All the above
  2. Parking nearby
  3. Handrails more important
  4. Greater importance on public meeting space and passive recreation
  5. cultural activities
  6. Outdoors environment enjoyment increases
  7. Injury prevention during activity is an issue
  8. demands on drop-in opportunities
  9. More experiential programs
  10. Winter activities tend to drop
  11. Lessening willingness to adapt technology
over 70
  1. Declining social network
  2. Children approaching greatest earning years
  3. Recreation changing to game-playing
  4. Voluntarism remains important
  1. All the above
  2. Less emphasis on exercise equipment
  3. More emphasis on age related programs
  4. Programs to bring together new friends
over 80
  1. Survivor years – loss of friends
  2. Declining health, mental awareness and agility
  3. Decline of independence – often have caregivers
  4. Lessening likelihood to care for grandchildren
  5. Great grandchildren are part of their lives
  6. Prevalence of single, widowed females
  7. Reduced voluntarism
  1. Intergenerational gathering space
  2. Meeting space for Over 80’s
  3. Enclosed / Safe space for those with dementia
  4. Emphasis on reduced trip hazards
over 90
  1. Significant decline of independence
  2. Caregivers often assist
  3. Limited mental and physical agility
  4. Limited voluntarism
  1. Generally less interaction with children
  2. Parks need to more directly impact this age group
  3. Association with non-park land uses needed, i.e. seniors accommodation