Note: This is the third in a series of articles about play and playgrounds for seniors. Links to the previous posts are at the end of this article.
Happily, we in the elder demographic are not likely to be admonished for eating sand or walking backwards up the actual slide. Our maturity engenders a mastery of playground etiquette.
Conversely, it can be daunting to consider what’s entailed to actualize your vision through making the addition of an elder playground to your community a reality.
This post advances our conversation from the previous two articles where I hope to have captured your imagination, eliciting visions of attending to your health by engaging in out-of-doors exercise, and the feeling of delight from frolicking on equipment designed specifically for aging bodies’ needs. (This may be an opportune moment for a refresh, or a first read if you’ve just landed upon out tête-à-tête.)
How does one go about realizing this concept that’s captured your imagination and intent?
There’s no standard model or template for the process of bringing an elder playground to fruition.
To that, let’s think aloud here and delineate a constellation of considerations, each to be weighted according to the specifics of what you look to achieve, and the community in which you hope to impart something wonderful.
I call it “beneficial fun.” Just as pediatricians, psychologists, and sociologists have studied the importance of play in promoting healthy child development, so too we’re becoming increasingly aware of the cognitive, physical, social, and emotional impacts that play imparts to the wellbeing of senior citizens. Making that happen is worthy of exploration.
Consider yourself an ambassador for the playground that flourishes in your mind’s eye. Here are the steps.
Assess how it is that you fit into the equation. More than likely, you’ll be a conduit.
You must articulate your idea in a fashion that captures the interest of whomever you present to. Reflect the values and economics of your particular community, with an outlined strategic trajectory in place.
Fit your thoughts into a well-written proposal and a carefully-crafted pitch that you’ll present to either officials serving a municipality, an independent, well-networked person who can engage the community in fundraising and development initiatives, a “Main Street” development agency, or to a foundation or philanthropist who’ll ultimately adopt your idea as their own, and fly with it.
Is one agency best able to actualize the project, or will it ideally entail the involvement of partners or a comprehensive team?
Identify the resources, businesses, and special interest groups that are unique to your area, and how it would behoove them to become stakeholders in the development of an elder playground.
Focus your pitch beyond the actual playground, and speak to the benefits of the target demographic of your playground’s reach. For instance, I live in rural Maine. We’re known as “the oldest state” with a heavily grayed populace. That there exists a viable market of users for this sort of project is a given. Who will your playground draw?
Analyze the impact of tourism on your local, regional, and state economy. Globally, tourism is down for the obvious (COVID-19) reason. Perhaps the time is ripe to cultivate a different sort of tourism to support the small businesses that have been adversely affected. Having already slowed down, we’re perhaps more resigned than our younger cohort to never returning to the norm we formerly knew. We’re also determined to make the most of every precious day. That’s a call to co-create new elder playgrounds.
Dare to dream of a network of elder playgrounds in your state – and how fun and feasible it would be to make day trips entailing easy hour or two drives to partake in senior-specific amenities. Most elders are on fixed incomes, thus our personal spending habits haven’t had to change. Packing a picnic lunch harkens back to the innocence of yesteryear, and minimizes the risk of the moment. Imagine the impact on a downtown area were its merchants and restaurateurs savvy to advertise incentives for, say, “Elder Thursdays” whereby discounts were offered on the same day as a farmers’ market to attract seniors. Conceivably, statewide promotion of elder playgrounds could serve a pivotal role in destination tourism every day of the week in various regions. A similar coordinated effort resuscitated New York’s theater district years back — a proven model that drew visitors from adjacent states and regions.
Do you have a locally owned building supply company and/or local hardware store? Local businesses stand to realize visibility and promote goodwill through participation in playground projects. They may be willing to procure supplies for the installation phase through their purveyors at no mark-up, content to receive free advertising through local media exposure.
Do you live in a college town? Private colleges especially are often keen to be viewed as an asset to their locale in exchange for tax breaks. Though their resources are currently being drained with school closures and hybrid reopenings that compromise their revenue, there still may be creative approaches to take. They typically own more real estate than meets the casual eye.
Is there a local hospital? Often they invest in various health-related facilities and programs to foster public health. Certainly the time is ripe for such projects. Other countries have placed emphasis on the importance of building healthy immune systems as a means of staying safe or enhancing recovery from COVID-19, and it is incumbent for us to do the same. We know that the natural environment is advantageous to our health. Research has informed us that activities are exponentially safer outdoors than indoors. Even in a cold climate, a playground is accessible by conservative measure for at least 7 months of the year. Where I live in rural Maine between two locally operated hospitals, there is a swimming pool no longer able to be utilized – the time is conducive to switching it over to a circuit of senior-specific playground equipment.
What types of recreational activities abound in your area? Again using my locale as example, there is a lakeside park that offers swimming, paddle boarding and boating, and hosts food trucks – all enjoyed by seniors, providing an already in-place market. There are several acres of recreational trails for walking, hiking, biking, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing created on lands interlaced throughout the region, all ripe for elder playground equipment.
Hidden gems of locations can be found by canvassing for appropriate open spaces.
How about a craft brewery with expansive grounds? Or, a summer art or music school, or camp?
Is there a community or recreation center? A park sitting idle?
Are there developers, particularly those who work in the context of urban renewal? Often there is a willingness to expand real estate projects with a surrounding tier of community revitalization. You may be surprised to learn of municipal lands that have fallen out of use over the years. Many parts of the country have an inventory of rambling, abandoned mill buildings and complexes sitting idle since manufacturing left our nation. Slowly but surely groups are investing in renewal projects and re-appropriation of infrastructure. Mayors’ offices have staff you can inquire with.
Have your school playgrounds been cordoned off during the pandemic? Before which, were they in prime stead, or had they fallen into disrepair? Elders respond positively to youthful influence, and our society must seek ways of instilling the value of our elders into our children’s routines.
Is there potential for an inter-generational playground? If so, that’s an effective tactic for combining two agendas under the auspices of one budget making it cost-effective and efficient. An existing school playground can be renovated to include elder-only play stations.
Is there a private landowner who would be amenable to sharing the land they steward?
Contact county entities such as economic development agencies. Inquire with your Congressional representative, state office for the aging, Governor’s office, etc.
Oftentimes town halls in rural locales are set on ample land. Some municipalities offer community gardens, likely amenable to expand what they offer to community members.
The possibilities are almost endless. Investigating them adds purpose to your life.
Be aware that your proposal needn’t be an all-or-nothing plan. Incremental or modular plans may be a realistic means of overcoming financial barriers. An elder playground can be phased-in year by year, as fundraising allows. What will ultimately become a 12-piece, senior-specific equipment circuit could nicely be integrated over a two- to four-year period.
A beautifully crafted series of wood and metal equipment, superbly designed to specifically address elder bodies’ needs, completes Goric’s full complement of playground products.
It just so happens that Goric will gladly refer qualified clients to an independent consultant for grant and proposal writing: me. My professional background is rich with proven grant writing awards and proposal writing successes, and decades of experience building community and small business endeavors.
Goric is on the vanguard of new approaches and methods for safely configuring playgrounds for the challenges of the times, upholding our philosophy of “Healthy Play.” Goric actively researches innovative new solutions coming to life around the globe, and looks forward to having their design team work specific to your site.