Baby Steps Toward Age-Friendly Cities

I’ve lifted a list of initiatives, small and large, being undertaken. Let’s hope that from these ‘small acorns’, mighty oaks will grow:

  • Sixty stores in East Harlem, identified with window signs, agreed to put out folding chairs to let older customers rest as they do their errands. The stores also try to keep aisles free of tripping hazards and use larger type so signs are easier to read. A community pool set aside senior-only hours so older swimmers could get in their laps without faster kids and teens in the way.
  • On one long block, accountant Henry Calderon welcomes older passers-by to rest in his air-conditioned lobby even if they’re not customers. They might be, one day.
  • In East Harlem, school buses have taken older adults from senior centers to supermarkets in different neighborhoods. It’s just one of a variety of initiatives begun in 2009 by the New York Academy of Medicine and the city’s government to address the needs of older residents.
  • Benches have been placed in nearly 2,700 bus shelters to give waiting seniors a place to rest.
  • The city’s aging taxi fleet is scheduled to be replaced by a boxier model designed to be easier for older riders and people with disabilities to open the doors and slide in and out.
  • Seniors snapped up a report card of grocery stores deemed age-friendly because they offer deliveries, have public bathrooms – a rarity in the city – and sell single portions of fresh meat, poultry or fish, important for people who live alone.
  • Artists volunteer to teach at senior centers in return for space to work on or display their own creations.
  • A “Time Bank” is letting hundreds of people of different ages and with different skills essentially barter services. A retired English teacher may do some tutoring, for example, and use the credit she earns to get computer help from another volunteer.
  • In Atlanta, efforts are under way to adapt zoning codes to allow more of a walkable mix of housing and retail. The Mableton community of suburban Cobb County is planning that kind of a town square, and has opened a farmers market – on a weekday morning when seniors preferred to shop – and intergenerational community garden. A nearby County is building a library near a senior center, planned senior housing and a bus stop. 
  • One town pilot-tested a shuttle for seniors to supplement bare-bones public transit.
  • The Atlanta Housing Authority is working with the commission to retrofit high-rise apartments that house a lot of older residents, with the goal to improve access to the surrounding community. At one site under construction, changes include a ramp entrance, safer sidewalk to the bus stop and more time for pedestrians to cross the street.

‘Age-friendly’ will become a mantra for business.

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