|Cultural content experts and officials of local governments attend the 2020 Senior Content Forum in a seminar room at the National Assembly in Seoul, Feb. 11, to discuss how to introduce the concept of "senior playground" in South Korean society. Korea Times photo by Jung Da-min|
Local governments to build playgrounds for seniors
By Jung Da-min
It is common to see children run around, climb up and down a jungle gym, and hang from bars at a neighborhood playground.
But it is not common to see elderly citizens participate in such activities, maybe because there is no place exclusively for them to do so.
Cultural content experts and officials at local governments from across the nation had a forum over the issue at the National Assembly in Seoul, Feb. 11, to discuss how they would introduce the concept of a playground for the elderly, something that has been introduced in some European countries.
A playground for elderly people differs from those for children or a park for adults in general in that the facilities are adapted to accommodate the physical capacity of the elderly so that they can safely exercise and interact.
Co-hosted by Rep. Kim Boo-kyum of the ruling Democratic Party of Korea, Rep. Jun Hee-kyung of the main opposition Liberty Korea Party and independent lawmaker Rep. Kim Song-sik, the 2020 Senior Content Forum was co-organized by the FunFun Cultural Foundation, a corporation supporting education, welfare and culture projects, and the Korea Manifesto Center, a civic organization promoting social values.
About 100 participants attended the forum, including the Korea Manifesto Center President Lee Kwang-jae; DPK Rep. Kang Byung-won; Lee Gun-woong, professor with the Global University who specializes in cultural marketing; and Ko Min-jung, head director of the FunFun Cultural Foundation.
"When dealing with the issue of the increasing number of senior citizens due to an aging population, Korean society does it with a biased view that it leads to an increased financial burden on the younger generations," Lee Kwang-jae said in an opening speech. He said Korea's policy for the elderly has only focused on the standards of productivity, which ended up "isolating" them at community centers for senior citizens.
"I hope the example of senior playgrounds in Finland, one of the European countries with the fastest rate of super-aging, will give an opportunity to the participants to reevaluate the current policy for senior citizens that has been isolating them and bring about a paradigm shift toward policies focused on their amusement," Lee said.
The participants noted that Korean society is rapidly turning into a super-aged society, which is a country where people over 65 years old make up more than 20 percent of the total population. According to government data, Korea became an aged society with an elderly population accounting for more than 7 percent in 2000 and will become a super-aged society by 2025.
Economic, social benefits of senior playgrounds
Presenting on behalf of Fei Lu, executive assistant to the CEO of a Finnish company called Lappset Group which has been developing playgrounds for seniors over the past decade, prof. Lee Gun-woong noted that introducing senior playgrounds to Korean communities will bring economic and social benefits by motivating elderly citizens to continue to exercise so that they could prevent possible injuries and have social platforms to continue community activities.
"The philosophy of Lappset Group lies in keeping in shape … The important factors for a healthy aged life are physical health, mental health and constant community activities," the professor said. "Now what we are trying to do is to find the answer for healthy aging and well-dying in the senior playground."
|Taavetti Park in Helsinki, Finland / Courtesy of Lappset Group|
Introducing cases of senior playgrounds in European countries including Finland, Sweden, Spain and Germany, Lee said such facilities help elderly citizens to strengthen flexibility and muscular strength as they use muscles and joints which they do not use in other everyday activities.
Ko of the FunFun Cultural Foundation noted that there has been low or little awareness of the concept of senior playgrounds in Korea where playgrounds have been considered the exclusive realm of children.
"The focus on introducing senior playgrounds lies not in that it makes senior citizens exercise but in that they exercise because it is fun. That is why it is not named a fitness center but a playground. There is a saying by George Bernard Shaw that 'We don't stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing,'" Ko said.
|A senior playground in Spain / Courtesy of Lappset Group|
Ko said many of today's elderly citizens fall into the category of "active senior," a concept introduced by Bernice Neugarten, a former psychology professor at the University of Chicago, to describe people in their 50s 60s who are socially and economically active.
She said it is important for the government and private sector to work together for the senior playground project, and the existing parks already popular among senior citizens like Seoul's Tapgol Park could be converted into "senior-friendly" parks.
"We expect that senior playgrounds will make the community healthy by engaging senior citizens in social activities while they gather at playgrounds to interact with each other," Ko said.
The concept of "multi-generation" playgrounds which could be used by both children and senior citizens was also discussed during the forum.