About two-and-a-half-years ago, I told you about elder playgrounds and that I was heading a small committee of the 50-plus Advisory Board of the City of Lake Oswego, to look into details of building one in Lake Oswego, Oregon.
They have been popular in Europe and Japan for years but were then, and still are, just getting started in the United States. One such playground has existed since 2010 on the grounds of the senior center in Rockville, Maryland:
A fairly large elder playground opened in Galveston County, Texas, last year:
So as I reported here in 2013, my little committee and I researched elder playgrounds and pulled together the information the city would need to make the decision to build one.
Among the people I spoke with was Michael Cohen, a professional designer of children's playgrounds, whose enthusiasm for elder playgrounds has made him a sort of godfather to the movement to build them. His website is here. As I wrote in these pages in 2013:
”I am personally convinced of Michael Cohen's vision and that there should be elder playgrounds in every city in the United States, particularly as the elder population explodes in numbers.
“The playgrounds promote general health, wellbeing, spread joy and go a long way toward warding off social isolation which, as we discuss here from time to time, can lead to depression, illness and even early death. With so much concern over health care costs, to me elder playgrounds – which are not expensive to build - are a money-saving no brainer.”
About three weeks ago, the Lake Oswego playground, built and managed by the Parks and Recreation Department, opened to the public in West Waluga Park. It is called FIT Spot which, while utilitarian, lacks appeal or sense of fun such a park provides and I am so sorry the word “elder” is not in the name. But that is how things go in a culture as terrified of ageing as ours is.
It's not that people of all ages can't or shouldn't use the equipment, but the point is to provide elders - many of whom, like me, can't afford a gym membership - a place to help maintain their well being, meet their peers and enjoy the outdoors. There are few enough such opportunities designed for elders' needs and capabilities.
(End of editorial. Moving on.)
Here is the sign about the playground at the entry to it. You can see part of the adjacent kids' play area which is a great idea – parents and caregivers can work out at FIT Spot while keeping their eyes on the kids:
The entire FIT Spot area looks almost exactly as I had imagined it would. Here is a wide shot of most, but not all, of the ten pieces of exercise equipment.
When I was there to take photos early Wednesday morning, three people were already working out. Here are close-ups of several machines:
Three or four of the exercise units, like this one just below, are fitted out for people who use wheelchairs:
Because this is northwest Oregon and it rains a lot (well, not in summer), this nearby covered area is a good place to wait out a surprise shower and there are clean rest rooms nearby.
Three times a week, I work out at home for 40 minutes or so in the early morning. Now I will add the elder playground into my routine on some other days. It works different parts of my body, gets me out of the house and I've already met someone I would like to know better.
FIT Spot is far enough away that I need to drive for 15-20 minutes to use it but I hear chatter that one is being considered for a park that is within walking distance from my home. I hope that rumor is true - that would be terrific.
Elder playgrounds are a big hit in Spain where, Huffington Post reports,
”The greater Barcelona area has about 300 elderly parks alone. That’s about one for every town in the district.”
Maybe you can work with your community to create your own elder playground.