By Sue Paul, OTR/L, COO
Although the senior park idea has rolled around impatiently inside my head for almost a year, it wasn’t necessarily easy to share. I have never stepped foot into local government before, and I had no idea what to expect once the idea went public.
Initial feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. Most people, with having little to no idea about the details of the project, seem to think that building an outdoor space for seniors makes sense.
The naysayers state:
- “What’s wrong with seniors using the parks we already have?”
- “The park is only usable part of the year.”
- “What a waste of money.”
- “Where are the parks for other disabled groups?”
Oh boy, where to begin?
The Big Picture
There is such a disconnect between our boxy, regimented beliefs in wellness and lifestyle that we forget that roaming the great outdoors is something our species was designed to do. The paradox is that while we have developed so many ways to ease the work requirement for survival, we have also painted ourselves into a corner of sickness, obesity, and immobility. While we have a solid handle on how to combat and prevent infectious diseases, lifestyle diseases are killing us off by the millions.
At this point, I could hop up onto my soapbox of chronic disease, fragmented healthcare, human-habitat disruption, polypharmacy, lousy nutrition, stress, and decreased socialization… and the hundreds of reasons why it’s cheaper to solve the problem of lifestyle diseases now than to kick it down the road, but I’ll save the pontificating for the pulpit.
Back to the Park
Evolutionarily speaking, it is ironic that we have to “build” natural spaces and make them accessible. But alas, we do.
Seniors and the “differently abled” will be more inclined to use the park system if the following amenities are available or, at the very least, considered:
- Convenient parking– the point of going to the park is to exercise in it, not exercise before getting to it.
- Bathrooms– because nature calls
- Flat, smooth walking surfaces– for ease of movement for assistive devices and wheelchairs
- Handrails, grab bars, non-slip surfaces– because no one wants to fall
- Plenty of adapted seating– higher benches, arm rests, strategic locations
- Easily engaged activities– premeasured distances, outdoor fitness equipment that is labeled and easy to use
- Appropriate and beneficial equipment and activities– trust in the planners that the recommended structures and activities are not based on some ambiguous decision
- Shelter and shade– from hot or inclement weather
- Natural elements– because nature is good for the soul
- Contained space– for the memory-impaired who need their freedom
- Congregate space– for socialization
The infrastructure is just the beginning. Without participants, perhaps such a project would be a waste of money. But think about the future of our aging town- rising health care costs, fewer non-paid caregivers, and increasing isolation and depression. Then think about an investment in culture change, and a plan to lower the overall burden of an aging community. Endorsement for the park from a community who is able to see the bigger picture can lead to healthier citizens who can exercise actionable ideals.
It has got to start somewhere – With a physical, tangible space
Are we naïve enough to think that just because we build it, they will come? Heck no. But it has got to start somewhere visible and feasible- and be fueled by the pain and sacrifice of slicing skin into the game.
And as far as the park only being usable for part of year, you really don’t need to tell this Miami girl that the weather in Maryland is not always conducive or pleasant. But I will say this: y’all are one stoic and hardy breed. I have no doubt that most will exceed my threshold for cold weather tolerance.
“Always design a thing by considering it in its next larger context—a chair in a room, a room in a house, a house in an environment, an environment in a city plan.”
– Eliel Saarinen
Show your support for a senior park in Frederick by sending supportive emails to the city’s deputy director of parks and recreation, Roelkey Myers – Click here to email him. Follow our progress on The Baker Beacon, The BRG Facebook page or searching #simple4seniors.