The Mid-America Regional Council reports 20 percent of Americans (75 million) will be 65 or older by 2030. In many cases, this large group is helping to raise young children. There are a number of causes, but the effect remains the same. There is a growing need for more inter-generational activity in parks. Here’s why:*
- In 2012, 57 million Americans were living in multi-generational households.
- 2.4 million grandparents are raising children.
- One in six middle-aged adults are raising children, while providing support to at least one parent.
- There is a rise in single parents. In 2014, four out of 10 children were born to unwed mothers. Additionally, fewer than half of the kids in the U.S. under the age of 18 are living in a home with two married parents in their first marriage.
With multiple generations interacting more frequently, there is a unique opportunity to rethink outdoor spaces. The challenge is to find ways to activate, utilize and engage all users of our parks. By designing and creating outdoor spaces for seniors and young children, we can offer positive experiences for very different populations with surprisingly similar needs, like engagement, a sense of purposefulness, exercise and mental and physical stimulation. Here are some of the benefits:
- Builds social connectivity within communities, which has been linked to reducing vandalism.
- Improves mental and physical health for both young and old.
- Creates a greater demand for more spaces and/or recreational programs.
The first step to rethinking park design is to include seniors in our public involvement efforts. This could mean hosting more than one Open House or offering different stations/activities for a variety of age groups. Choosing the time and location of the events is of equal importance. Avoiding senior mealtimes, which are typically earlier, and selecting libraries, polling places or senior centers are all viable options. Then, after engaging, be sure and use the information gathered to set goals for all ages.
When it’s time to design, be sure to consider these items when creating an inter-generational park:
- Select a location accessible to multiple age groups. Studies show any neighborhood has the potential to include a diversity of age groups.
- Choose activities with a wide-range of appeal. These could include competitive games, like putt-putt, pickle ball, bocce ball, croquet and lawn darts. Art, performances, outdoor libraries and water are engaging options as well.
- Rethink park amenities and their placement. Often times, park amenities are separated by age group. While this may be key for some elements for safety, consider placing amenities like playgrounds near art installations or garden areas. This allows the older population to interact more easily.
- Impact engagement through programming. Including coffee shops near daycares, hosting outdoor reading programs or senior/youth tournaments of any kind, for example, can attract diverse audiences.
- Consider cooperative activities like kite flying and horseshoes. These are relatively slow-paced activities, so people feel welcome to join in.
- Plan for comfort. Walkways should be in good condition. Avoid loose particles on playground surfacing, which can be a detriment to balance. Good lighting, comfortable places to sit and restrooms are key for all park users.
- Create opportunities to share experiences through story-telling, teach skills or discuss history. Fishing, themed play elements, public art and gardening foster all three.
This blog post is based on a presentation Carisa McMullen gave at the 2017 KRPA Conference called “Intergenerational Engagement in Park Design.”
*Statistics included in this post were pulled from the following sources: RetireNow, the Bureau of Labor Statistics and Pew Research.