As I participated in Age-Friendly Delaware County meetings about how to improve and innovate outdoor spaces, it was a bit overwhelming. There are so many parks, bike trails, and outdoor spaces—where and how do you start?
I realized what seemed like a large undertaking—making outdoor spaces more age-friendly—could actually be accomplished if we divided the improvements into small steps. This would allow us to make some immediate and noticeable changes. When a bench-with-arms idea was brought up, I brought the conversation back to our leadership team and we looked at the idea. We felt it was something we could tackle fairly quickly to get the ball rolling and make an immediate impact. While we hadn’t budgeted for the arms initially in 2019, we were able to allocate funds from the budget mid-year to add arms to a few benches. Then in 2020 and into 2021, we were able to retrofit all benches in the district with arms.
This small, but effective change, is an important step. We want everyone of all ages and abilities to have the opportunity to get outdoors, enjoy nature and the parks. We also want it to be a pleasant experience. Though it is a simple solution, adding arms to benches wasn’t something we had thought of, but once it was suggested, it made sense. It is one more piece of the puzzle that allows our parks to be enjoyed by a wider range of people of all ages and abilities.
It also raises the question and provides motivation for exploring what else we can do. We are always looking for ways we can make the parks more enjoyable and accessible to visitors. As we develop new parks and look at amenities in existing parks, we are looking at development My “Aha!” Moment When Thinking Age-Friendly and improvements through an age-friendly lens. We ask questions like: How can we make indoor facilities more comfortable? Are there certain types of chairs that are easier for all ages to use? Do we need more benches along certain trails? How can we make our trails more navigable for visitors through signs, markers, etc.? What age-friendly programming can we offer that would be of interest and benefit to a maturing population? How can we connect parks so that people can walk or bike to them, offering a safer and greener alternative than driving?
We encourage visitors to reach out to us through a variety of channels to share their thoughts about how we can make the parks more age-friendly.
Rich Niccum is Preservation Parks’ education service manager