New York Remaking Itself as the Big Age-Friendly Apple
With its subways, traffic jams and wall-to-wall people, New York isn't the first place you'd think of as age-friendly.
Yet the Big Apple is embarking on a campaign to make itself more hospitable to residents of all ages, especially boomers and seniors who might not get around as well as they used to.
The 3-year-old Age-Friendly NYC initiative is a partnership among the mayor's office, city council and the New York Academy of Medicine. Those organizations are working with a year-old aging commission to "encourage healthy and active aging" -- in other words, to make it easier for New Yorkers to stay in the city as they get older.
It's a have-to situation. According to the initiative's organizers, New York has more than 1 million residents who are 65 or older. In just a few decades, the city will be home to more older adults than school-aged children.
From Grocery Guides to Additional Seating
The initiative has launched approximately 60 programs since Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced it in 2008. One is a guide to 23 neighborhood grocery stores on the city's Upper West Side that residents can consult to see which have handicapped-accessible restrooms, sell single-serve portions or offer senior discounts. City Councilwoman Gale A. Brewer's staff has distributed 1,500 copies and continues to fill requests for the free brochure, which is also available as a downloadable .pdf file. "We've had calls from people outside the Upper West Side -- they want it for their neighborhood, as well," Brewer's chief of staff Shula Warren told The New York Times' City Room blog.
East Harlem businesses have brought in chairs and benches to offer seniors a place to sit, according to a CBS report. Businesses throughout the city are being encouraged to lower shelves, make signs easier to read, provide drinking water and keep entrances clear, according to the initiative's website. Retail businesses that comply may display a special Age Friendly NYC decal (pdf) in their windows.
The coalition is also working with architects, libraries, lawyer groups, cultural institutions and other groups to get people thinking about how the city can be more inclusive, says New York Academy of Medicine's Dorian Block, a spokeswoman for the initiative. "Basically, we're trying to change the way all sectors of the city think about the way they work, and before they plan anything, hold an event or construct a new building to think how it will affect older people in the neighborhood and help them be integrated," she says.
Sara Aarons, a 91-year-old Manhattan resident who uses a wheelchair, says she'd never move but would appreciate more accessible sidewalks. "People say, 'You know, in assisted living, you could have everything at your fingertips; you wouldn't have to struggle,'" she told WNYC's News Blog at a recent Age Friendly NYC event. "I said, 'It's not a struggle!' It's wonderful to get out into the environment and the community, and then you feel a part of it."
Other Resources, Other Cities
Age Friendly NYC is creating other resources, including a print directory and online database of classes suitable for older adults at the city's college and universities that's expected to be out by fall. The city also created guidelines for neighborhoods that want to become so-called aging improvement districts, where residents, volunteer groups and city officials work together to come up with solutions to age-related issues.
New York isn't alone in wanting to remake itself as age-friendly. although the city was the first to reach the implementation stage of an international age-friendly cities program started four years ago by the United Nations' World Health Organization. According to Block, 50 cities around the world are now working on programs similar to New York's, including municipalities in France, Ireland, Slovenia, Canada, Singapore and Taiwan.
Read more: Libraries Retool for Boomers
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