The Challenge


How can we harness data and information for the health of communities? read the brief


Playgrounds for everyone: encouraging adults to stay active in our public parks & spaces by designing spaces for intergenerational interaction.

Ninety percent of San Francisco residents live within a ten minute walking distance to a public park. There are places for small children to play and dogs to run, but no place for adults. Join me in the quest for creating playgrounds for everyone.
Backdrop Story:
Jon and Louise have just dropped off their youngest daughter at the college freshman dormitories.  They've said their good-byes and promised to call at least once a week.  Jon and Louise have spent the last 20 years working a career so that their children can have a safe and comfortable home.  Jon and Louise have lost touch with their fellow friends who were also busy building their families.  Jon walks past a public park and sees adults in their twenties playing a pick up game of basketball and reminisces of the days when he could simply call his friends to come out and play in the playground.  He then notices a sign that says, "No Adults Allowed Unless Accompanied By Children."  He sighs and walks away.

The Problem :
Ninety percent of San Francisco residents live within a 10 minute walking distance to a public park.  Public parks have specific areas designed for children under 12 and for dogs to play.  But there are no areas designed specifically for adults.  How can we change the designs of our public spaces to encourage targeted empty nesters to stay active?  Can we encourage adults to remain physically active so that we can delay onset of physical limitations as they grow older?  Can these activities then translate into better resources and tools in assisted care and senior care facilities that help keep seniors active?

The Solution:
Build public spaces that encourage inter-generational interaction and that exercise mind, body and soul.

Examples of Inspiration:
In Hong Kong, tai chi wheels in public parks help keep seniors active.  Think back to the movie "The Karate Kid" where his Sensei is teaching him to "wax on, wax off" and move his arms in a certain pattern.  Tai chi wheels in Hong Kong help seniors move muscles that typically do not get much exercise when standing or walking.

In Korea, several generations can take a walk together on a walking / biking path beside a stream located underneath a highway overpass.  On each pillar of the highway is a replica of a famous European painting.  The walking path has a plaque telling the story of the painter, his technique and inspiration.  There is a bridge where one can walk across to the other side of the stream, but there is also a series of rocks neatly placed one after another where seniors and toddlers swiftly cross the stream with ease.

In Berkeley, California's Cesar Chavez Park, there is a solar calendar with instructions on how to read the calendar to determine the solstice and equinox points.  Along each of the four quadrants of the compass is a plaque discussing the science behind the seasons, a plaque on the history of Cesar Chavez's labor movement, and a story of his family values such as determination, hope and courage.  The installation spans at least 100 yards wide and is a nice stroll with interesting its history, science and narrative.

Mechanisms of Solution Implementation:
Conduct a design competition to build the best integrative and interactive experience community installation for learning and exercising.  The competition would be open to everyone in the community.  Funds would go towards building prototypes of the semi-finalists.  Pop-up design tests would take place in a public park, for example in Golden Gate Park or Central Park, where passersby of all ages could interact with the installation.  Ethnographic researchers, physical therapists, nurses and other healthcare professionals and engineers would be on hand to understand the interactive benefits of the installation.  Finalists would then test a senior-friendly version of the installation in an assisted living care facility.

The winning platform would then be installed in assisted living care facilities, senior centers, and other public spaces.

Come join me in the quest for creating playgrounds for everyone.
Describe your project in one sentence.
Join me in the quest for creating playgrounds for everyone: to build public spaces that encourage inter-generational interaction and that exercise mind, body and soul.
Who is the audience for this project? How does it meet their needs?
City governments, elderly care administrators and the general public are all looking for ways to stay physically and mentally active but current service offerings are limited to a paid gym or country club membership. Designing expanded activity options in public parks can serve as prototypes for new structures and facilities in physical rehabilitation, senior care and assisted living centers.
What does success look like?
Senior care facilities keep residents active using a jungle gym designed specifically for them to help trigger memories, stay mentally active and get exercise through movement. The general public becomes more active through designs of public spaces that entice and draw passersby to step into the park / garden / playground to combat Nature Deficiency Disorder.
Your Location
San Francisco, California, USA


Join the conversation and post a comment.

Natasha Freidus

September 22, 2013, 16:02PM
I was recently in Istanbul and struck by the adult exercise stations next to every single playground throughout the city. They were always being used, attractive, and fun. Great idea!

Amy Ng

September 25, 2013, 15:59PM
Thanks Natasha, I would welcome more insight into how parks in your area are used or not used as we try to refine this project.

Yvette Nuñez

September 22, 2013, 11:36AM
What lovely examples from Hong Kong, Korea and California. Have you done or gathered any research on the likelihood that older adults, empty nesters, etc. would use such spaces if created? Is there data on the physical benefits of the kinds of activities you'd find in a playground, or those that would engage adults?

Amy Ng

September 25, 2013, 15:58PM
Yvette, thanks for the question and feedback. Yes, this is part of the data set that would inform the design of both the physical space and the system- level platform from which data could be gathered. Part of the physical space would include sensors that could track BMI, duration of movement, frequency of multiple users, and other information that can help tell designers/engineers/physicians how the physical space is being utilized

Rebekah Monson

September 21, 2013, 21:54PM
Good idea to encourage activity among adults. Can you give us some more information about what kinds of data you would put to work in this project?

Amy Ng

September 25, 2013, 15:46PM
Dear Rebekah, Thanks for the question. This project would have several phases: first a call to action to contribute design ideas to be vetted by practitioners in the field, second to build and test pop-up prototypes of these designs in multiple locations/scenarios, and lastly to implement in a full-on solution in a municipality, senior center or public general use area.

Within each stage, the type of data sought and gathered would be different. In the first stage, data such as mobility factors, cool factors, enticing/inviting features and general health/risk data would inform the design and be used to judge the designs to move forward into the prototyping phase (II.) Since this is a call-to-action that combines input from both passers by general folks and practitioners with deep expertise in mobility for the aged, specific data factors will be defined as we move forward in the project's implementation. This project uses a bottom-up approach that says, we may think we know what is best, but until we take action to build and test, we won't know what factors are best suited for the most optimal outcomes. I could provide details of a hypothesis with specific factors at this moment, but would like to refrain until the next stage.

As an example, some data factors would be those described in the question above from Yvette.

Gregory Bator

September 17, 2013, 17:16PM
You need to connect with Michael Cohen of Must Have Play. He is a guest on an upcoming show of Graceful Aging. He designs and builds playgrounds for all of us as we age. Michael is passionate about this concept. Let me know if I can help connect you.

Amy Ng

September 25, 2013, 15:52PM
Thank you Gregory. It seems that Michael Cohen is doing great things, mostly in the UK, with influences from Asian examples such ones I note above. His work is a piece of what I'm trying to accomplish here. It would be good to get in touch with him as this project becomes more refined.

What I'd like to do with this project is to broaden the scope to not only the aged, but to populations that will become older. A key is the inter-generational interaction that is largely lacking in stand alone physical structures. An integral part of the success of this project is to a) see what's happening in existing public places / senior centers, b) encourage a diverse practitioner base of expertise that can refine key features for testing and defining success, c) create a platform that encourages folks to walk into a park and be active.

To that last point, we know that we are all enticed by retail storefronts with dazzling displays that invite us to come in to browse. Why can't our public parks be that enticing that we want to come in and play / be active?
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