Our Town: At John Jay Park, You Must Be This Old to Enter
By Dan Rivoli
July 15, 2010
Original available here
The Upper East Side, recently declared the best place in America to retire, may get more senior friendly.
The Parks Department is considering a plan to designate a section of John Jay Park just for seniors, possibly a first in the city.
The southeast corner of the park, which is between East 76th and 78th streets by the East River, next to the bathhouse, would be transformed into a senior citizens’ playground. Instead of jungle gyms and ball fields, older folks could use low-impact exercise equipment, play on checker and chess boards, go to an outdoor yoga class, or just read in quiet.
Andrew Komar sits in the southeast corner of John Jay Park, an area proposed to be set aside for seniors. Photo by Andrew Schwartz
Peggy Price brought the concept to New York from Shanghai. While on a 2005 business trip with a friend, she came across a park where seniors were using outdoor exercise equipment and playing Mahjong.
“It was just a pretty, verdant respite,” Price said.
Price is also a member of Community Board 8 and co-chair of the parks committee. She mentioned the idea to her community board colleagues and the East 79th Street Neighborhood Association, whose members are mostly elderly East Siders.
“Older people might be on a fixed income and can’t afford a gym,” Price said. “Here’s an opportunity to get them the kind of services that are appropriate for their interests for free.”
But Price and others involved in the project want to have senior oases in parks throughout the city. The idea has already caught on in London, which just opened its first senior playground in Hyde Park last month. The park, which is technically open to anyone, features senior-friendly equipment such as a cross-trainer, stationary bicycle and sit-up bench.
Though the Parks Department has yet to officially design a seniors-only spot in John Jay Park, money is already being allocated to the project.
Council Member Jessica Lappin, whose district covers the park, netted $250,000 for the Parks Department to design the area and buy some exercise equipment. Lappin, who also chairs the Council’s Aging Committee, got an additional $6,000 for recreational programming in the park such as tai chi and yoga.
Peggy Price, a Community Board 8 member, snapped this photograph of her friend, Janet Marks, using exercise equipment for seniors at a Shanghai park in 2005.
“Seniors felt there really wasn’t a place in the park for them,” Lappin said. “There was a tot lot, but not a senior space. So why shouldn’t there be?”
Many spots in John Jay Park are accounted for: there are sections for toddlers, playgrounds just for children and ball fields, said Betty Cooper Wallerstein, president of the East 79th Street Neighborhood Association. The only open space in the park, she said, is used by older kids.
The only thing missing from the plan is a name. Wallerstein wants to hold a contest for that part of the project. But she does have a few rules: “Nothing that says seniors or older people,” she said.