We didn't come to stop traffic. We came to enlighten it.
It was the day after the election, and a group of us had planned a flash mob performance in one of Pittsburgh's busiest intersections. The event, called Crossings , was weeks in the making — long before we had any idea there would be protests down the block.
We carried on. And we carried big signs that read:
"Thank you for seeing and stopping for pedestrians."
"Where are you looking?"
"People at play ahead."
Our bright yellow shirts were emblazoned with "Safer Together" in all capital letters.
It's not easy to cross the street — whether you're 8 years old or 80. The overarching goal of Crossings, which was led by the group Lively Pittsburgh as part of our Age-Friendly Greater Pittsburgh initiative, was to raise awareness about pedestrian safety for people of all ages and abilities.
When the walk signal flipped on, we crossed the street as a pack. Our stage was the crosswalk, and our act ended when the light changed. To draw maximum attention, we infused playfulness into it. We skipped and high-fived. We danced in sync to James Brown. We invited everyone to join us.
And that's where the real magic happened.
Even before we started, a mom in a motorized chair saw us, asked what we were up to and ended up staying with her three kids. Our purpose resonated with her.
"It's so hard for us to get across this intersection, especially when we're carrying bags from the store," she said.
An older woman in a wheelchair also joined. She was heading home, but she stayed to cross a couple times with us before zipping away.
And nonparticipants' lives were touched, too: the drivers who happened upon the intersection (some honked; others danced along), the people who passed on bikes, the young professional who saw us from his office window and came out to watch.
A lot of good work happens behind closed doors. Ideas are shared in conference rooms via PowerPoint presentations — even ideas about reshaping our communities. Leaders thoughtfully craft them and cite evidence to build their cases. Yet oftentimes these ideas never reach the people or the places they're about.
Let's bring these ideas to life, with and within the communities they're meant to affect. Let's make them public. That way, we can come together — different ages, different ability levels, different backgrounds — in unexpected, meaningful ways.
A core group of eight people organized the Crossings performances, but we had more than a dozen jump in on the day. They came because they saw the work in action and were compelled to be a part of it.
Change doesn't happen in a vacuum. The age-friendly movement is about making cities and communities more inclusive and user friendly, not only for older adults but for everyone. It's important to involve as many people as possible. And what better way than by literally taking it to the streets?
Laura Hahn is a gerontologist committed to intergenerational solidarity and age-friendly communities.
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