Access to outdoor spaces and recreational facilities is a vital part of healthy living. Older adults remain healthier when they can routinely enjoy these public resources (Carlson et al. 2012; Cauwenberg et al. 2011). Unsafe sidewalks, on the other hand, impair walkability and increase risk for injury from falls (Schepers et al. 2017). Compared with other large metropolitan centers, Los Angeles has fewer parks and open air recreational spaces than most. In a 2017 list of 100 US cities, LA ranked 74th (The Trust for Public Land 2017). However, the perception of these community assets likely varies across social and economic groups in any city. In addition, many are unsure whether their communities even have these recreational assets. Data from the Los Angeles Purposeful Aging survey provide some insight into residents’ perceptions of public space access and sidewalk safety where they live within the County. The survey asked residents about the presence of nearby well-maintained and safe parks, those with sufficient benches to rest, sidewalk safety, accessible public buildings and facilities, and the presence of a neighborhood watch program. Respondents were asked whether each one of these things existed where they lived, with responses being “yes,” “not sure,” and “no.”
Perceptions about such assets varied little across age groups, except likelihood of reporting that their cities and towns had well-maintained public buildings and facilities that are accessible increasing from 54% among those under age 45 to 63% from those aged 75 and older. However, the percentage “not sure” about parks, benches, and public facilities increased with age, while uncertainty about neighborhood watch decreased. A parallel survey of LA City and County employees yielded slightly different patterns across age groups, with perception of the presence of these assets declining with age. Nevertheless, slightly higher percentages of the employees reported their communities had parks with enough benches and safe sidewalks, across age groups, than did the general residents. Turning to the older community residents, ages 60 and above, we find some important differences in availability of, and uncertainty about, the outdoor spaces and facilities. Non-Hispanic Whites were most likely to say their communities had safe, well maintained parks, parks with enough benches, and well-maintained accessible public buildings, while African Americans were most likely to report that their sidewalks were safe for pedestrians and wheelchairs. Asians were the most likely race/ethnic group to be unsure about all five of the assets asked about. Overall about 45% to 55% of the older respondents said, “yes” regarding parks, sidewalks (see Fig. 1), and neighborhood watch; about 60% said “yes,” their city or town had well-maintained and accessible public facilities. The percentages “not sure” were greatest for neighborhood watch, and lowest for well-maintained and safe parks nearby, for both the general public and employee samples.
These patterns appear to be driven by income disparities, as the reported presence of all of the community assets increases with household income. The percentage saying they are not sure decreases with income for well-maintained and safe parks within walking distance, safe sidewalks, well-maintained public facilities, and neighborhood watch. There is no income difference in percent uncertain about public parks with enough benches in one’s community. Moreover, the difference in percent high-income across age groups (60+ compared with under age 60) is twice as great for Asians as for non-Hispanic Whites, with a somewhat smaller age gap for African Americans and Latinos.
Ensure County and City Parks, beaches and other public spaces are age-friendly and culturally-relevant.
The UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs outlines age-friendly design guidelines for age-friendly parks in the report: “Placemaking for an Aging Population: Guidelines for Senior-Friendly Parks.” These guidelines, such as accessibility, social support, choice, safety and security, physical activity and comfort, should be incorporated into the initial design and upgrading of all parks. County and City Parks, which are already collocated with some community and senior centers, should be positioned as focal points for recreational and social activities for older adults. Many of the same age-friendly concepts can also be applied to beaches, marinas and other public spaces. In addition, it is critical that parks and other public spaces incorporate culturally-relevant features to help ensure their relevancy and utilization by the communities they are intended to serve.
Make tourist attractions and buildings in the Los Angeles Region age-friendly.
As new building construction occurs (and buildings are updated over time), it is critical that they provide welcoming, functional environments for all generations. This is especially important for stadiums, museums, studios, convention centers, major public facilities, and other tourist attractions that draw a high-volume of visitors, including older adults. The County and City will partner with these institutions/facilities, as well as the Los Angeles Tourism and Convention Board, USC School of Gerontology, and other partners to develop a ranking system for major regional tourist attractions. We anticipate generating awareness of, and attention around tourist facilities that have taken steps to become age-friendly.