Eight million people live in New York City. Of those people, one million are over the age of 60. Over the next 20 years, the number will increase by 50 percent, the biggest shift in history, making the age friendly initiative ever more important.
We talked to Ruth Finkelstein, professor of health policy and management at the Columbia University Aging Center and the former director of the Age Friendly New York City Initiative.
“The process was to talk to thousands and thousands of New Yorkers about their daily lives,” Finkelstein said.
While doing that, they talked about what facilitates what people are doing and what challenges that. They focused on the eight domains put forth by the World Health Organization: the built environment, transport, housing, social participation, respect and social inclusion, civic participation and employment, communication, and community support and health services.
What’s wonderful about New York City for older people, and really everyone, is its public transportation system and the cultural liveliness of each of the bureaus. What’s challenging is affordability and housing.
The New York Academy of Medicine worked in conjunction with the government and other institutions to try to enact change. One of the problems was crossing the street, so more than 100 intersections were redesigned. “There’s demonstrable lowering of pedestrian fatalities,” Finkelstein said.
Another challenge to walking around the city, being independent, and meeting people was that New York City had taken out its benches in order to try to reduce homelessness. They were able to put in thousands of benches where people wanted them.
“The libraries adopted age friendly with a vengeance,” Finkelstein said. The city’s three library systems have all developed comprehensive programs to serve older patrons. These efforts ranged from computer programs to an arts workshop series for older adults.
“The pools were a big triumph,” she said. The city’s pools are great, but they are crowded. The parks commission set aside time in the morning where half of the pool was specifically for people aged 55 and older.
Businesses also got involved. People were saying that they wanted to continue to work. So businesses made an effort to hire older adults as part of an initiative called Age Smart Employer NYC.
“Age friendly cities are whatever you make them,” Finkelstein said. “I’d like to see each community innovating responsibly to their problems. I don’t like the idea that places think this is what is successful in one place so this is what we should do. I like when people are creative.”
For more information about the efforts that NYC has enacted, see this helpful infographic.