The Characteristics and Activities of Older Adult Visitors to a Metropolitan Park District
Keywords:Older adults, aging, urban parks, metropolitan parks
AbstractThe purpose of this study was to explore the characteristics, activities, patterns of visitation, and sources of park information, among older adult users of a metropolitan park district. Data were drawn from an in-park survey of visitors to a metropolitan park district. We defined people who were 50 years of age or older as older adults. Perhaps the most compelling finding of this study was that age was not a significant factor in the types of activities older adults pursued while in urban parks. Age was also not important in explaining patterns of park use or in the sources of information older adults used to keep informed about parks. It is important to note, however, older adults' use of parks was very much influenced by their respective roles and statuses. For example, sex and employment status were predictive of the kinds of activities in which older adults' participated during their visit. These and other roles incorporate their own expectations and associations, which act independently of chronological age. In short, far from being a homogenous group, older park visitors come from vastly different walks oflife and use parks in ways that demand individualized planning and marketing strategies.There were two commonplace activities in which older adults participated during their park visits: walking/hiking and relaxation. Fifty-five percent of older park visitors said they walked or hiked and approximately 40% said they relaxed during their visit. Beyond this, variety and diversity best characterize older adults use of parks. Less than 15% of older visitors stated that they engaged in wildlife watching and/ or bird watching, sought solitude, walked a dog; picnicked, or played with children. Less than 4 0% said they fished, jogged, bicycled, went swimming, or visited a nature center. Future planning for older adults should recognize the multitude of activities in which they are likely to participate during their visits.Results also indicate that older adults use of parks drops off with age. Moreover, it appears that visitation drops off with age more for females than it does for males. Other studies have found that fear of crime and a lack of companionship are two critical factors that limit older women's use of public parks. To better serve an older female population, park districts must be sensitive to their interests and their need to pursue such interests in a safe environment. As the population ages, and as health care improves longevity, these safety issues will only increase in meir relevance to park districts.
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