Let’s change this, one park at a time.
By Nikki Beckman, Director of Research, Life3A
Biologists and sociologists alike have for a long time understood that there is no line – no on/off switch – in which you step cleanly across from adulthood into elderhood (a term coined by geriatrician and Pulitzer Prize finalist, Louise Aronson. “With older age, there is a sequence, but not everyone goes through it necessarily – and almost never in the same manner. Some people may jump ahead and miss some steps entirely, while for others, the stages of ageing may overlap.” The message being, that the process of ageing is never the same for any two persons.
The circumstances in which we live; from the support we receive during our early years, to our working conditions, housing, education and local communities later in life – each have powerful and accumulative impacts on our health and consequent quality of life as we transition into elderhood.
So why, therefore, aren’t the designs of our cities and local communities more reflective – and empathetic – towards the nature of the ageing process. Designed to be accessed and enjoyed by and for all, regardless of age.
The ageing population express an overwhelming desire to remain in their home and connected to their local community for as long as possible. But what is the point of developing clever and cleverer ways to help keep our elderly population in their own home for as long as possible – if that same level of investment, expertise and advanced thinking is not extended beyond the front gate. To all other components of the broader community to create truly liveable cities.
As Aronson states, at a park, you should be able to see all segments of society. There should be spaces for play – for enjoyment, movement, and engagement – designed for young children all the way up to frail elders.
Take for example, Life3A’s very own collaborative partner, the National Ageing Research Institute, which has recently launched ENJOY (https://www.nari.net.au/enjoy). An initiative which promotes active ageing in the outdoors for older people. This initiative, in partnership with several local governments, government bodies and stakeholders has so far launched seven Seniors Exercise Parks throughout Victoria. These exercise parks are situated in well-established and importantly, already well-utilised local areas – in this case, existing parklands – and feature a range of outdoor equipment designed for older people to help improve balance, strength, functional movement, joint range of motion and mobility. Not to mention the social connections it has inspired.
Or similarly, in the seaside town of Benidorm, in Spain, where – regardless of age – locals and tourists alike catch the morning sun and utilise the exercise equipment offered along the sea wall. This may be more an example of a casual take up more so than any deliberate design intent, but the message, nonetheless, is powerful in that it normalises and even transcends traditional attitudes towards ageing.
As wonderful and important as these examples are, they are, sadly, more an exception than a rule. This must change. These examples must become the benchmark for more significant, widespread and impactful change throughout our communities. What about our libraries, supermarkets, and footpaths? Or more broadly, our public transport system, theatres, and sporting venues? The absence of a whole of life mindset to the design of our cities sends a clear message about how we value (or not) our ageing population.
Life3A is determined to shift the mindset in how we approach the design of our communities to become inclusive and enjoyable for all ages. We are passionate about collaborating with partners and organisations to design and develop age-inclusive initiatives throughout all components of community infrastructure. Please reach out to Nikki Beckman if you are a local government, government body or stakeholder interested in developing or discussing an age inclusive initiative in your area.