Bobby Dinkins admits his idea to build a playground for seniors wasn’t exactly original. “I actually just got the idea [through] Google,” says Dinkins, director of the Boyd Esler Senior and Community Center in Springfield Township, Ohio. “I went online and googled ‘exercise equipment for seniors’ and read about the Hyde Park playground in England. I realized they were really popular in Europe and Asia, but not over here.”
Dinkins is right: Playgrounds designed specifically for aging residents have popped up in England, Finland, Germany and throughout Asia. But the idea is just now taking off in the U.S. The parks feature low-impact exercise equipment designed to promote balance and flexibility, such as elliptical machines, static bikes and body flexors.
After securing $33,500 in Community Development Block Grant funds for the facility, Dinkins opened it last November. “The idea behind the equipment is to get seniors to stay active and to prevent them from falling,” Dinkins says. “Improving balance is important because a fall can be physically and emotionally devastating for seniors. Plus, it’s just fun.”
The Hyde Park playground that inspired Dinkins was built in 2009 with the idea that many older residents in the nearby neighborhood felt disconnected from the community, says Joanna Hughes, a spokeswoman for The Royal Parks, the United Kingdom government agency that manages eight parks in London. “While there are certainly physical health aspects to the playground, it is also there to nurture social and mental health.”
In the U.S., the approach seems to favor playgrounds that cater to multiple generations instead of being designed exclusively for the elderly. KaBOOM, a nonprofit organization that builds playgrounds in low-income areas, has partnered with the Humana Foundation to build multigenerational playgrounds throughout the country. Eleven have been built since last year; another 16 are in the works. Their intent is to provide a place where aging adults can participate alongside their children or grandchildren, says Mike Vietti, a KaBOOM spokesman. “This way, instead of adults just sitting on benches while their kids play, they can also be active and keep an eye on the kids.”
One of the recently opened KaBOOM projects, at the Midway Safe Harbor Center in Sanford, Fla., has been a big asset to the community, says center Director Brenda Knight. “When you’re talking about an area with high crime and poverty, it is often the case that the grandparents are taking care of their grandchildren. Before the playground, neither the kids nor the grandparents had a place to go, and now they have a place to go together.”