When most of us picture a public park, we see a vision of squealing kids climbing around on playground equipment and adults jogging and walking their dogs.
But UCLA professor Madeline Brozen, who directs the school’s Complete Streets Initiative, and her colleagues are challenging communities in the U.S. to form a new idea of how parks can contribute toward keeping a rapidly aging population healthy.
Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris, a professor of urban planning at UCLA, collaborated with Brozen on an award-winning toolkit that advises communities how they can create mini “parklets” in urban areas without a lot of green space. During that time, she realized that seniors weren’t using public parks as much as other age groups. The team wondered if this is because, unlike some in Asia and Europe, U.S. parks are almost never designed with the needs of elders in mind — instead emphasizing playground equipment and ways for younger adults to recreate.
So Loukaitou-Sideris, Bronzen, and other colleagues are now working on a project that will investigate what seniors need from public parks and how to design parks in order to attract those in their golden years. They plan to pay particular attention to the needs of low-income, urban seniors who don’t have a lot of recreational options.
“What we are trying to do with this project,” Loukaitou-Sideris tells Sharon Hong of UCLA Newsroom, “is, first of all, find knowledge from different fields about what an open space or public park for seniors should look like, how it should be different for different groups of seniors, incorporate some of the voices of senior citizens, create guidelines for future such spaces, and hopefully even apply this knowledge towards the creation of a park.”
With the population of Americans aged 65 or older expected to double between 2000 and 2030 to 72.1 million, this kind of thinking about people who are often forgotten by city planners is a must.