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Towns and Cities Prepare for Aging Populations

Older Americans want to age in place

New York City: the age-friendly Big Apple

Three years ago, the mayor's office, the New York City Council and the New York Academy of Medicine created Age-friendly New York City to address the explosion of the 65-plus population, estimated to increase by nearly 50 percent in the next 25 years. Because of its efforts, last July New York became the first city in the world — Portland, Ore., is the only other U.S. city — to join the World Health Organization's Global Network of Age-friendly Cities. Cities in the network, supported by their mayor and municipal government, agree to work on improving environmental and social factors to promote active and healthy aging, and link to one another to exchange ideas.

New York's initiative is bringing together leaders in various fields such as banking, city agencies, architecture and the arts. Questionnaires, town hall meetings and neighborhood meetings also provide input. "An ongoing commission keeps us accountable for implementing initiatives, monitors how we're doing and makes it possible to come up with new elements to adopt," says New York Deputy Mayor Linda Gibbs.

In 2009, Age-friendly New York City created 59 initiatives.

Among them:

  • Safe Streets for Seniors assesses and works on improving pedestrian safety in neighborhoods with a large number of older people or a history of pedestrian accidents. The city has installed countdown clocks and lengthened the time given to cross streets. They've also added pedestrian "refuge islands" so those crossing the street don't have to do it all at once, widened the roadways, and added left-hand turn signals or banned some turns altogether.

  • Market Ride sends school buses, idle in the middle of the day, to transport older people to supermarkets. Hyacinth Tennant, 71, uses the Mosholu Montefiore Senior Center in the Bronx. Once a month, the bus takes her and others to a Harlem store. "Supermarkets in my neighborhood are terrible, and the prices are exorbitant," says Tennant. "Market Ride is a blessing. Transportation is free, and the vegetables, fruit and meat are all fresh."

  • Space for Art brings volunteer artists to senior centers to teach in exchange for using the space to create or display art.

  • Silver Alert, a public notification system, broadcasts information about missing 60-plus-year-olds with cognitive impairments, using media outlets, community organizations, the New York City government website and Twitter.

  • Time Banking lets older adults swap services. A person offers a service — teaching Spanish for two hours, doing errands, etc. — by calling an 800 number or working through a website. The Spanish "teacher" gets credit for those two hours toward a service he or she needs, like a ride to the doctor, dog walking or computer help.
    Age Friendly Local Retail Initiatives: Volunteers visit retailers to explain the value of having older customers (they spend money — and so do their friends!) and suggest how to attract them with no- or low-cost changes such as larger and clearer signs, items placed within reach or perhaps a chair in the store. Volunteer Carolyn Stem, 67, has knocked on merchants' doors to see if they want to become an age-friendly store. "Almost every single store I went to was very excited," she says.

  • Last summer, 20 cultural institutions gathered to discuss inexpensive or free art opportunities for older people. "More than 500 seniors attended," says New York City Councilwoman Jessica Lappin. "We did not expect that kind of turnout."

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