I recently stumbled across an article detailing new playgrounds in Germany specifically created for senior citizens (or at least older adults seeing as the low age of the spectrum is 60). Now, as regular readers might note, this particular blogger firmly believes that play, like learning must be a lifelong process. [Of course true play itself is a form of learning through the construction of simulated reality and/or exploration of boundaries...]
That being stated I have some major reservations about this kind of application. The logic being used to justify such a segregated space is bluntly put:
“Retired people need a space to be themselves without someone coming along and spilling ice-cream on their trousers or breakdancing,” said Andrea Weber, a social worker specialising in the lifestyle of the elderly. “They need to feel safe.”
While I understand that, in most cases, the aging process leads to a lack of flexibility and increased apprehension of danger (some might term that wisdom) I do not believe that it is healthy as a society to create a safe place for our elders by separating them from "our" public spaces. Ironically, by creating public space that effectively ‘wharehouses’ seniors, one might actually be creating the potential for much more crime given the alarming rates at which seniors are preyed upon.
To take another tack, I might guess that a majority of our population remembers fond interactions with senior citizens in our youth. My father still remembers fondly (by name even) the old italian guys that lived in his building and on his block half a century ago. If we consider such classic public spaces as Washington Square in New York we encounter a mix of demographics ranging from the elderly talking or playing chess to the young splashing in fountains and chasing pigeons. I am not a psychologist or sociologist by any means, but I will argue that such intergenerational and cross-demographic contact both helps social cohesiveness and fosters responsibility to others in society. Finally, I have noticed that when seniors get very old (beyond the point of any sustained exertion) they often find great comfort in simply observing life around them. Shortly before my grandfather died from heart failure he would find what appeared to be great pleasure simply sitting on the couch and watching three generations of his family swirl around him. Although I cannot put myself in his place, I can understand how gratifying that might be after almost a century of life.
If places for senior citizen recreation are designed as discreet nodes I feel it is this connection that will be lost. After all, after many decades of life would you rather spend your time with your extended family and friends or with those who coincidentally were born around the same time you were?