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Towns and Cities Prepare for Aging Populations

Older Americans want to age in place

Philadelphia: a little brotherly love for older folks

Of the 10 largest U.S. cities, Philadelphia has the highest proportion of people age 60-plus, with more than half of them members of a minority group or foreign-born. So in 2008, the nonprofit Philadelphia Corporation for Aging (PCA), the city's Area Agency on Aging, developed Age-friendly Philadelphia. The initiative identifies age-friendly policies the city should adopt, makes sure that the concerns of older people are part of community planning, and brings together a diverse group of experts and individuals to improve the quality of life for people of all ages.

Two years ago, Kate Clark, a PCA planner, created GenPhilly, a network of professionals, mostly in their 20s and 30s. The group raises awareness of the older demographic and offers professionally and networking opportunities for its members.

"GenPhilly is educating the next generation of leaders in our city to think about aging issues and the type of city we all want to get older in," says Allen Glicksman, PCA's director of research. "When I came to the Philadelphia Corporation for Aging, I realized that organizations I had previously worked with were not talking about older adults. I wanted to get young people thinking about it and how to build relationships and partnerships around them," says Clark.

The city's age-friendly efforts include:

Working to revamp the 40-year-old zoning code and coming up with a new comprehensive plan to reflect an age-friendly mind-set that considers residents' health and aging issues. "We're one of the few cities that is proactively thinking about public health as a part of the planning process," says Clint Randall, a Philadelphia city planner. "New research shows a strong connection between the physical environment and obesity and chronic diseases."

A proposed zoning code that would strengthen neighborhood centers, mixing more commercial with residential zones so people feel connected to their neighborhoods. The new code would help residents move around more easily, and go to work or go shopping within short distances of their homes. The zoning code also would require a certain number of housing units to accommodate wheelchairs (no steps, wide doorways), approve accessory dwelling units on single family properties ("granny flats") and add adult day care services.

Five hundred acres of publicly accessible open space being created by the parks department. The city's future goal is to locate a park near a senior center, for instance, or try to have open space within a 10-minute walk of housing.

A checklist to help determine how age-friendly city parks are, and what they need to improve such as shade, programming for all ages and nonslip pavement.

Sally Abrahms is a writer from Boston. She specializes in aging and boomer-related topics.

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