[SENIOR MOMENTS] We Need Public Spaces

Stephanie Vendig

Public spaces that increase social connections are one of the tenets of a “Livable Community,” developed by the AARP and adopted by Mayor Eric Garcetti as a goal for Los Angeles. The challenge now is to find structures and organizations that will benefit the health and safety of our city’s population, particularly as it ages.

A good example of this was a recent event at the nearby Friendship Auditorium. Participants were members of 34 clubs that operate individually at different senior centers, recreation centers, and churches in East LA neighborhoods. The GPAC Club from Griffith Park Adult Community Center was happy to take part. The East Area Federation of Senior Citizen Clubs sponsored the party to connect all their members with each other in a common purpose. Volunteers formed a committee to organize the party of food, speakers, information, and even dance music!

Normally each club regularly meets for a specific interest, but by joining with other clubs in planning for this annual event, seniors were able to interact with even more people and perhaps meet new friends. This is the sort of thing that bonds people even more strongly to their neighbors and community spaces.

In increasing public spaces, the challenge for Los Angeles lies in changing a city dominated by cars and single-family homes where individual activities predominate. It could add spaces where people can easily gather every day. There is potential in parks, downtowns, waterfronts, plazas, neighborhoods, streets, farmer’s markets, campuses and public buildings. We have some of these, but need more.

I view senior centers and clubs also as public spaces that could bring people together instead of leaving them isolated. But this means the city must assess how well such centers currently function to achieve the goals of being public spaces. Are they structured to provide activities that focus on socialization? Are they places where people can come to just “hang out?” Are they a means of learning and maintaining skills, and are they a place where people can easily be connected to resources that may be needed as they age? Importantly, can these places also be a source of gaining access to transportation when the car is no longer a viable option? These are important questions that could lead to both a secure and exciting future.

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