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Parks and Creating a Quality Community for Aging

The EPA recently released a guidebook on creating healthy communities for older Americans entitled Growing Smarter, Living Healthier. The booklet centers around using smart growth principles to build communities that allow people to be active, mobile, involved in their community, near amenities and the like. The idea is that communities built to nurture these elements offer a better quality of life for older residents (though there’s good reason that they are attractive to younger ones,too).

A recurring item within the publication is that of nearby public parks and quality gathering places. Here is an excerpt from one section:

Age-friendly communities have gathering places that are within walking distance of homes, or a short bike ride, drive, or shuttle trip away. These critical neighborhood ‘meet-ups’ can include parks, libraries, community centers, places of worship, gyms, Internet cafes, ice cream stores, or neighborhood diners. Small neighborhood parks, town squares, and plazas are great places to sit and read, catch up on e-mail, talk with friends, or watch kids play. Larger parks and greenways can offer walking trails, bike paths, and sports fields.

As we age in place, whether in the same house or the same community, these gathering places become even more important. Getting to these meeting places provides some of the physical activity that keeps us healthy. Being there in the company of friends provides the critical social interactions that keep us connected and engaged. Being part of a community also triggers an informal network of folks who might keep an eye out for each other. As a recent study of low-income Hispanic seniors found, traditional neighborhoods with ‘eyes on the street’ (porches, stoops, windows, and buildings along sidewalks just above street level) showed improved physical functioning for older residents over a three-year period; they also showed more social support and reduced psychological distress.

For cities looking to become attractive places for retirees, having a decent park system is one way to do just that.

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