Wall Street Journal: Seniors' Play: Park for Elderly
By Joy Resmovits
August 6, 2010
Playgrounds aren’t just for kids anymore.
New York City plans to turn an unused portion of John Jay Park on the Upper East Side into an oasis for senior activity. Although the area has yet to be designed, residents anticipate it will include features such as chess tables, exercise equipment designed for the elderly and maybe even swings.
The playground idea comes as the city braces for growth of its aged population; 1.3 million people over the age of 60 now live in New York City, 5% more than seven years ago, according to a spokesman for the city’s Department for the Aging.
According to Jessica Lappin, chairwoman of the City Council’s aging committee, New York within the next 20 years will be home to more seniors than school-age children. More than 44,000 seniors live in the Upper East Side’s District 8.
In 2009, the city and the New York Academy of Medicine, an urban-health research and advocacy group, unveiled a blueprint on enhancing life for older New Yorkers. The report recommended discounted gym memberships, free legal assistance in housing court and innovation grants for senior centers. In June, the World Health Organization named New York its first “age-friendly” city.
Still, there was no permanent designated park space. “Sometimes it’s scary if you’re frail and elderly to go to a park because of the fear of falling,” said Velda Murad, assistant director of the Carter Burden Center for the Aging, which has locations on the Upper East Side. “A playground for older people gives them access.”
The new space would be a first for the city, though the concept is spreading internationally. In May, London opened a similar area.
The idea for John Jay was sparked during a trip Community Board 8’s parks committee co-chairwoman, Peggy Price, took to Shanghai, where she found a park for the elderly replete with equipment designed for gentle exercise.
Ms. Price worked with her committee and Ms. Lappin to introduce the idea. Ms. Lappin allocated $250,000 to create the park, and $6,000 for programming.
In September, representatives from the Parks Department will hold meetings with community members, according to the department’s Manhattan borough commissioner, Bill Castro. Designers will research and draft plans, with construction to begin next summer.
The push isn’t stopping with John Jay. “We’re hoping that an older adults’ recreation area would just be the first one in the city,” Ms. Price said.
And the city says it’s a possibility. “It’s an intriguing idea,” Mr. Castro said.
It fills a need for safety, according to Betty Cooper Wallerstein, president of the East 79th Street Neighborhood Association. When she went to look at the space with a Parks Department representative, she was hit by a Frisbee.
“The other areas were designated with swings and ball fields, and there was no safe place for us,” she said.