Sunday, April 15, 2012

LAPPSET Seminar in Brisbane; From Children's and Senior Parks to Intergenerational Play

Community capacity building has been a passion for me for the past five years. As a Service Manager for Finncare, Home and Community, Aged Care Services for the Australian Finnish community, I noticed that it is really hard to inspire people who have been guided to passivity in their retirement to revitalise their interest in recreational sports and fitness. If we think that it is hard to pick up a new habit as a young person, how hard would it be to change your attitude when you are set to the end of life path already at the age of 65.

As a Director, responsible for providing community care services for a large community in every age group, I have come to realize that intergenerational solutions are the best and most effective in terms of getting the community involved in their own wellbeing. Promoting healthy lifestyle is most efficient when everybody has the change to be together in the same space. It could be at different times of the day but it is the connection to the community and the feeling of belonging that is important.
My search for inspiration for Intergenerational Play has long roots, starting from the cultural dance and games that were such a wonderful experience for me as a young person. The connectedness to friends, family and community can not be stressed enough when talking about what inspires people for community involvement and healthy lifestyle. If there is a reason to be mentally active, live longer at home, be involved in the world, then my experience shows that it is easier to take up new habits to enhance that wellbeing.

Recently, I attended an innovative Seminar on Parks and Playgrounds in Brisbane, organised by the LAPPSET Group. They are playground equipment specialists from Finland and the leaders of the multi-generational playground design concept.

The Lappset Seminar introduced the participants to innovative ways of looking into public playground design, from defining who are the park equipment uses to suggesting practical ways to new playground design.
Many interesting talks were given explaining the necessity for careful understanding of the community needs, of planning suitable playgrounds to meet these needs and ideas on how to implement the whole Intergenerational Play concept to the modern way of life.

From Tuire Karaharju-Huisman, a researcher to aging population from Melbourne, I learned that by 2017, 15% of Queenslanders are over 65 but only 43% of people between 65-75 are active enough to keep them in good health. It is of grave importance for an aging person to be agile enough to avoid falls that can lead to permanent health risks. Walking alone is not enough to keep the kind of personal fitness, strength, balance and flexibility that enables a long healthy lifestyle. What is needed is some planned activities that are especially designed to maintain personal fitness and health.
One good example of the national focus on Senior Parks is found in Spain, where there are more than 1000 parks designated to promote Senior Health. This doesn't mean that they are for the seniors alone as many parks are used for different age groups during the different times of the day. This requires that they are planned to be diverse enough for everybody. The focus then shifts to designing a suitable play area where multi-generational play is possible.

On the other hand, I was made to understand that young people have their own needs and many times it is important to take into account that they might want a whole park devoted just to their entertainment. The huge success of Parkour in the designated parks points to that. There again, it is essential to note that boys and girls learn in a different way.
According to Ali Kadhim, the Australian Parkour Champion, boys learn to jump and then land as opposed to girls who train to land before learning to jump. And up to now, I haven't even mentioned the original mass uses of the playground equipment, the children under 10 where there are such noted enormous differences in age play that for example 4 and 7 year old children do not even play together, not to mention in the same way.

Ali Kadhim pointed out that in today's society where all the children are being supervised and all the risks for harm are carefully measured, there is a need for children and youth to search for their limits in order to develop their self-confidence. Parkour, for example, let's the kids find their own strength and limitations in a safe environment.

Jenette Blake, from Queensland Health called for everyone 'to consider taking physical activity out of the gym and into the playground' where intergenerational community involvement would enhance the general wellness and wellbeing of everyone. According to her, public parks are a cost-effective way to promote healthy communities. She also noted a changing public perception that encourages community evolvement.

Petteri Ikäheimo, the Asian Manager for the Lappset Group said that 'it is about doing things together', that if adults play together with their children in the playground, they are inclined to spend longer time there. The imperative, then, is to design the equipment so that it enables multi-generational play.

Well, after a day like that, who wouldn't be convinced? Especially, after we went to visit the Riverdale Park in Logan, where there is a wonderful playground, designed by LAPPSET where we were able to witness a marvelous Parkour demonstration by Ali and his Team9Lives mates.
In conclusion, I can say, that the attendees to the Lappset Seminar now have a considerably better understanding of the Intergenerational Play concept in global and multi-generational perspective. I feel that my passion for the Community Capacity Building has been enhanced and that I now feel even more enthusiastic in my goal to help to further Healthy Communities through striving to provide more opportunities for Intergenerational Play.

I sincerely thank the organisers for providing us with such a pleasurable and informative day and I look forward to working towards the realization of a dream where we could have more such interactive playgrounds in our own communities.

The Pictures in this blog are:
1. Rivedale Park at Logan, Queensland. A Parkour friendly design.
2. Team9Lives from Sydney
3. An inspirational quote
4. Ali Kadhim showing what he can do
5. Me testing my fitness, strength, balance and flexibility
6. Team9Lives Parkour demoinstration
7. An example of multi-generational playground equipment
8. Some Seminar participants at the Riverdale Park. In the forground Tuire Karaharju-Huisman

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