Prompting Age-Friendly Park Features in Sarasota County

Prompting Age-Friendly Park Features in Sarasota County

Posted on October 03, 2016 by Kathy Black

Outdoor spaces is a core domain of livability in age-friendly communities and research suggests that older people do not visit parks for a variety of reasons including lack of walkability, access and safety concerns.

In 2015, UCLA researchers compiled a synthesis of state-of-the-art senior friendly design features that promote usage of parks. The design features include the following 10 principles, which enhance the park experience for people of all ages.

Recently, Age-Friendly Sarasota held a training on Age-Friendly Park Features guidelines with parks staff including Sarasota County, City of Sarasota, LongBoat Key, Venice and North Port. Here's a snapshot of what we shared:

1) Control -  Refers to a person's "real or perceived ability to determine what they do, to affect their situation, and to determine what others do to them." A sense of control is of particular importance to elders, who may be seeing some of their physical or cognitive abilities lessening. A sense of control is achieved when users in parks have a good sense of orientation and understanding of the park’s layout and its different offerings. Orientation is particularly important for elders who may suffer from cognitive impairments.

2) Choice - Park users, both young and old, value choice. Visitors to a park should have a variety of places to wander, a variety of things to look at, and a variety of activities and programs for passive and active recreation and enjoyment. Encouraging flexibility in park design and offering different choices in the ways that a park can be enjoyed makes good sense.

3) Safety and Security - The need for safety is more pronounced among elderly park users. Indeed, concerns about their safety may lead elders to avoid using parks and public spaces. Elders may fear that they will be the victims of crime when at the park and (as we heard in the focus groups) may be quite nervous that their encounters with particular individuals (homeless, teenagers on skateboards, etc.) may have negative consequences for them.  The fear of tripping and falling is another major stress felt more by older than younger adults.

4) Accessibility - The ability to access a park quickly, safely, with ease, and without impediment influences an individual's decision to visit it. Indeed, the proximity of park land to the place of residence is an important determinant of park visitation. This is particularly true for the elders, who typically have less physical stamina than younger adults. For them, the ease of the journey to and from the park as well as the ease of movement and orientation while at the park become particularly important.

5) Social Support - Refers to the human need of wanting to be connected with other human beings and be cared for and supported by them. Empirical research has found a strong connection between high levels of social support and health. Parks and park activities can encourage interaction and socializing among elders and between elders and other groups, while, as discussed in the focus groups, particular activities taking place at the park can connect the elders to their larger community and promote intergenerational exchanges.

6) Physical Activity - Parks and open spaces can encourage physical activity by providing appropriate settings for active recreation and walking. Elders are more likely than other groups to live sedentary life styles and become intimidated by the prospect of exercise.

7) Privacy - Even in public spaces, individuals often yearn for some level of privacy, tranquility, and quiet. Parks can offer a break from settings that surrounds us and serve as small urban oases within the hustle and bustle of busy city life. Many elders repeatedly emphasized their need for a tranquil environment at the park.

8) Contact with Nature - Parks bring nature into the city and can offer their visitors positive “natural distractions,” defined as “environmental features that promote an improved emotional state in the perceiver, may block worrisome thoughts, and foster beneficial changes in physiological systems.”

9) Comfort - Provision of physical and psychological comfort should be an explicit goal of park design. Visitors are not likely to visit a space and spend some time there if it makes them uncomfortable.

10) Aesthetic and Sensory Delight - Parks should offer an aesthetic respite in the city and an opportunity for sensory enjoyment. Providing opportunities to see and manipulate natural objects and observe seasonal changes can encourage park users to use the park as a source of positive sensory stimulation. Such stimulation should not only be visual but also auditory, tactile, and olfactory.

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