Not everyone feels safe and welcome in public spaces and some of this is due to the way they are designed. Younger and older people are rarely considered or consulted about built environment decisions. However, age is just one dimension when considering inequity in public space. Disability, gender, cultural background intersect with all ages. A high density low-income area of Los Angeles was used for a study on intergenerational space for everyone.
Nearly all participants expressed enthusiasm about designing public spaces for intergenerational use and interaction.
The article describes the participatory method of focus groups, interviews and site observations. The focus on the study was three parks in the Westlake area. Older adults shared personal memories of the parks, often associated with when they first arrived in Los Angeles. Younger people remembered visiting the parks and times shared with family and friends. These happy times were not to continue, however. The parks became run-down and felt less safe and inclusive.
The research revealed that active engagement appeals to both older and younger residents. Park designers might assume that older adults prefer quieter, less active public spaces, but this ignores those who enjoy active engagement. Similarly the stereotype that younger people want activity dismisses those who want a quiet place to read.
The study is another example of participatory action research, or co-design, which is a processes for producing inclusive, universally designed public spaces.
The title of the article is, “We should all feel welcome to the park”:
Intergenerational Public Space and Universal Design in Disinvested Communities. It is open access with PDF and online access.
From the abstract
This article investigates the potential for intergenerational public space in the Westlake neighborhood of Los Angeles. We work with 43 youth and 38 older adults (over 65), to examine their public space use, experiences, and desires. We seek to identify where the two groups’ interests intersect or diverge. A series of site observations, focus groups, interviews, thick mapping, and participatory design exercises were used.
The potential for complementary approaches to creating intergenerational public space was explored using universal design. The importance of taking an intersectional approach to designing public space is emphasized. There are multiple, often overlapping identities of disability and age, in addition to race, class, and gender.
Our findings yield insights for creating more inclusive and accessible public spaces in disinvested urban neighborhoods. There are also opportunities for allyship between groups whose public space interests have been marginalized by mainstream design standards.