53 ways to foster an age-friendly city

My 628 class (Urban Planning and Social Policy) put together some ideas for making cities more age-friendly. This is what they came up with:

As the World Health Organization (WHO) states in their “What makes a city age friendly”:

“cities are complex organisms that rely on effective interaction between people’s homes, the possibilities of communication and travel, the availability of appropriate services and also the less tangible, yet vitally important, influences such as a sense of belonging, security and the kindness of others.”

As a much larger proportion of the population becomes 55 or older, cities must place a larger focus on the aged to ensure a happy and healthy population. Through working with and consulting with stakeholders of all age groups, we have created a holistic approach to an age-friendly city that will enhance the health, and financial security for the aged.

According to the WHO, age friendly cities embody the following:

  • Recognize the wide range of capacities and resources among older people
  • Anticipate and respond flexibly to ageing related needs and preferences
  • Respect older people’s decisions and lifestyle choices
  • Protect those who are most vulnerable; and
  • Promote older people’s inclusion in and contribution to all areas of community life

In identifying the proposals to help make cities more “senior friendly,” we decided to use these criteria:

a. In-home accommodations to meet daily needs;

b. Accessible and affordable public transportation and social opportunities in the community;

c. Available applicable services, ie. elevators, handicapped parking spaces, etc.;

d. Public safety and an inclusive sense of community (Biggs and Tinker, 2007).

So here’s the big list:

1. One-Stop-Shop for Services: Understanding that getting around and finding the answers to important questions often requires multiple organizations working together; the City will construct community buildings that serve as one-stop-shops for senior citizens. They will function both as a social gathering place and source for information, referrals and as appropriate in-building delivery for services most prioritized by seniors. This might include information about doctors and healthcare, housing, banking or finance advisors, as well as educational and social workshops.

2. Events for All Audiences: So often family-friendly events are developed with children and young adults or families in mind. These events are often designed to include audiences that might have trouble walking over large areas or getting around at night. An age friendly world is one in which all people of all ages are able to actively participate in community activities . The city will promote one time and annual events during the day and late afternoon with public transportation available and reduced or free pricing. The design of the event will also ensure parking that is closer and on even ground to provide access for anyone with physical challenges. Walkways to the event will be monitored wheel chairs will be available free of charge. Bathrooms and rest areas will be set up throughout the event. The city is also activity working with neighborhoods to promote smaller neighborhood social events that generate inclusion and social respect for all generations.

3. Support for families providing eldercare. Often the family members most active in taking care of their elderly family members live in other parts of the state or country and are unsure of the quality of the services they are looking into. The city will design an app and online tool that is a service director of organizations and companies in the city. It will also allow for reviews and ratings so that family members and primary caretakers can be surer of the quality and level of service they are getting for their family member. These sorts of technologies have already been created in other sectors. For example, Yelp provides a range of information about consumer services.

4. Door-to-door services that improve quality of life: From basic medical to homecare services and grocery shopping, if you have limited mobility these needs are hard to meet. The City will institute infrastructure and tax credits which prompt companies to think creatively about getting their services to the doors of people who need them.

5. Mobile pet care. Pets can improve quality of life for animal lovers. Programs that foster pet care organizations to make sure seniors have access to care for their pets and animals could be given credits at tax time and free advertising in city communication.

6. Consumer Protection and Advocacy Task Force: Seniors may be the most vulnerable when it comes to identity theft, credit fraud, and other targeted financial threats. They also may not have access to the same information and know-how younger generations have. The city will set up a task force to research and identify specific mechanisms to protect seniors from these threats to make sure they are informed and able to protect what they have worked for.

7. Age-friendly building codes. Buildings must be appropriately designed for equitable use by everyone. Specific improvements for senior citizens include non-slip floors, bathrooms that are accessible, railings that are prominently placed in appropriate areas, ramps, and easily accessible elevators. According to research published in the Journal of Urban Health, “The city’s landscape, buildings, transportation system, and housing contribute to confident mobility, healthy behaviors, social participation, and self-determination, or, conversely, to fearful isolation, inactivity, and social exclusion.”

8. Ensure that at least some public spaces retain a quiet, communitarian, age-friendly environment: parks that are quieter, possibly a bit removed from major streets (or more secluded/quiet parts of larger parks), ample seating and shade are nice places to rest and relax away from skateboarders, bicyclists, and other potential conflicts.

9. Encourage employers to try out age-spectrum redistribution.
The city could offer tax credits to companies willing to use a pilot program that redistributes work schedules, billable hours, and organizational management. They could be targeted to businesses in areas with high age range variance so model can be accurately specified. In allowing companies the flexibility and temporary capacity to shift weekly work schedules with age distributions, they may be able to enable senior labor force participation that may have otherwise not been available.

10. Expand emergency housing options for seniors struggling with stable housing. Cities can work with HUD and the Housing Authority of Los Angles to provide low-cost housing for seniors, including emergency housing in times of crises.

11. Expand senior subsidies for bus passes. In Los Angeles, a senior pass is $20. We could halve that and ask for voluntary donations and sponsorships from other pass buyers. (This could work for student passes, too!)

12. Offer phone and in-home mental health assistance as means to reach out to older residents.

13. Foster and train community-based police officers to look in and look out for seniors. Community-based policing in which officers live and work in the communities they serve can build ties of trust and respect.

14. Fix Los Angeles’ sidewalks: (Editor’s note: I can’t believe we have to say this out loud.) Broken or cracked sidewalks not only create injury risks for older Angelenos, but they create environmental barriers that make the elderly less inclined to leave the house and take a walk outside.

15. Bring back benches and public washrooms: In response to complaints of loitering, many bus stops, parks, and sidewalks of Los Angeles have gotten rid of benches and washrooms. But this makes our neighborhoods less inviting and welcoming.

16. Make Access Services easier to use. Currently, in order to use access-a-ride services, elderly and disabled people must schedule in-person appointments and go in to the city’s access eligibility center for an assessment. Let’s make it easier for people to access the services they need.

17. Fix and maintain elevators and ramps in transit stops and stations. Too often, elevators, escalators, and ramps in Metro stations are broken. These are potentially debilitating obstacles for elderly trying to make it to a doctor’s appointment or simply visit an old friend across town.

18. Foster auxiliary units and more options for in-place downsizing. Many seniors may want to downsize, but don’t want to necessarily leave their neighborhood or their city to do it. Cities can build more senior-accessible housing to give elderly more options.

19. Make it easier to age-in-place with volunteer carpenters and handy work Many seniors want to age in place, but need to have renovations done to their house or apartment in order to do so. But home improvement loans have high rejection rates. Cities and nonprofits can help make it easier for seniors to get credit to renovate their homes, or they can work with homeowners and volunteers to to get quality accommodations done on existing homes.

20. Invest in financial literacy: Options like home equity conversion mortgages present the elderly with options to supplement their retirement income, but these options are potentially costly and confusing. Cities can foster resources that can help advise elderly Angelenos on their options.

21. Support homecare workers: The people that often spend the most time with the elderly, homecare workers, are not eligible for overtime pay. City services and employment practices should explore ways to make home care work more financially stable and secure for those who provide it.

22. Turn Libraries into Community Centers -Libraries can expand senior-specific programming, offering computer classes, book clubs, and movie nights to provide additional opportunities for senior citizens to engage with their community.

23. Supplement urban seniors with housing stipends. Housing affordability is a chronic problem, and helping seniors stay in place with housing stipends to help them remain in the city as rents rise increases urban diversity and housing stability.

24. Ensure Accessibility at Transit Stations – To ensure senior citizens can take advantage of the public transit options available to them, the stations have to be accessible with ramps and elevators, adequate lighting, and comfortable benches to sit while waiting for a bus or train.

25. Make Crosswalks Safer – Streets designed to move car traffic quickly are dangerous to older pedestrians. Raised crosswalks, added medians, and longer crosswalk times will help to ensure senior citizens have a chance to cross successfully before cars enter the crosswalk.

26. Create Parklets – Public spaces offer a place for seniors to spend their leisure time and interact with their community. The city’s parklet program should be expanded, with designs that appeal to seniors to encourage their use.

27. Train city service workers to be sensitive and aware of the needs of senior residents. Senior Awareness Education: City personnel, as well as any citizen that shows interest, will be given special training on how to care for the needs of the elderly. Classes will vary from how to determine the needs and how to respond. Regular CPR classes and first aid classes will allow for better-trained staff and citizens. This will create more responsible workers and prevent any situations of elder abuse.

28. Senior town hall meetings to focus on the needs of seniors. Regular meetings will be held at the City Hall to allow for interaction of the community with the local agencies. Suggestions will be taken for consideration and responses will be shared at subsequent gatherings. Those unable to be present can participate via the free internet access.

29. Encourage independent living housing construction through facilitating infill and adaptive re-use. These housing projects could take existing apartment buildings and refurbish them to make them ADA compliant as well as modern so that they have the appearance of a regular apartment. Supportive services, like health care, should be located in these complexes so that seniors can get any medical care they need at their doorstep (Lewis, R.K., 2014). Changing zoning laws will allow for mixed use buildings with both living and business space (Lewis, R.K., 2014).

30. Innovate pension solutions, such as pooled pension plans. The City of New York has proposed a pooled pension plan for people reaching retirement age who have no safety net which Los Angeles could adopt as well (Taylor, K., 2014). Individuals employed in private companies would choose to enter the fund, and workers would contribute a portion of their pay (Taylor, K., 2014). The City of Los Angeles could manage the funds (Taylor, K., 2014). To take this further, the city could create a public pension plan in which all people pay into and receive benefits as residents of the city, to ensure that all people are able to stay out of poverty, regardless of previous employment (Herd, P., 2009).

31. Free internet access. The City of Los Angeles needs to implement free wifi for the city as well as make sure that all seniors have access to a computer or tablet/e-reader, either a personal computer or a designated computer room at senior housing, senior centers, and libraries. The Pew study “Older Adults and Technology Use” demonstrates that seniors who have access to the internet view it positively, and feel that it is beneficial to have access to all of the available information on the internet (Smith, A., 2014). Further, seniors who are online tend to have more active social lives, which can help with isolation (Smith, A., 2014). The Brookings Institute summarized the findings of a report by the Advanced Communications Law and Policy Institute which found that the main motivation that seniors use the internet is to communicate more easily with family and friends (Schaub, H., 2014)

32. Boost local community colleges to provide job training to empower older employees to stay relevant in their fields. In a competitive labor market, seniors are potentially at a disadvantages.

33. Improve coordination and mobility between health and social services facilities in the metro area with shuttles between service providers and medical locations.

34. Foster “digital inclusion” to create more user-friendly methods to engage with online city servicesAs more city services are digitized and provided through the internet and mobile technology, all programs should be created as user-friendly as possible. This includes readable font sizes, and the ability to speak with individuals if any questions arise.

35. Coordinate and promote funding opportunities for senior advocates. Funding opportunities for senior programs fly under the radar. More transparency for available funding opportunities for public and private organizations can help organizations get access to the funding. The city can partner with organizations to connect older adults on eligibility for benefits like SNAP, SSI, and Medicare.

36. Encourage wellness through trails and parks of multiple exercise levels: Seniors deserve opportunities to stay physically fit through low-impact and high-impact activities. Regular exercise is an effective preventative health measure and improves overall happiness.

37. Foster Abundant Health Care Services for Seniors and for Economic Development: Aging populations need more frequent medical care than other demographics; the health services market is growing more than just about any other economic sector. Cities can work to attract health care services and locate them conveniently, as well as fostering local clinics that offer a range of preventive and emergency services. The city can also encourage home care services such as house-calls and in home nurses that allow seniors to stay living independently in their homes for longer periods of time (Help the Aged, 2007).

38. Senior-Friendly Tax Policies. Economic security is key to protecting quality of life for the aging population. Changes in tax levels can be a particular concern for seniors, and especially local option sales taxes and property taxes. The city can and should investigate the possibility of senior exemptions or two-tiers on sales taxes for seniors.

39. A peer ambassador program among friends and neighbors to promote healthy behaviors, lower diabetes rates, and ward off social isolation. A bellwether for the demographic destiny of the country, Los Angeles has significant diversity among its senior citizens and widespread health disparities. Chief among those are elevated rates of diabetes, which disproportionately affect Hispanic and African-American seniors. A peer ambassadorship pilot program in the Bay Area has been shown to decrease diabetes in these populations, increase healthy behaviors, and decrease social isolation.

40. Innovate better street lighting and lighting design. Falls and crime are a major concern for all citizens, but they are an especially grave concern for frail seniors. Cities can increase and better design lighting on major and secondary streets as well as in and around parks and other public facilities to help seniors with night vision difficulties better navigate sidewalks and walkways.

41. Improve bus stop design. One step in promoting transit use among seniors is to improve the conditions of bus stops and shelters. All bus stops should provide protection from sun, wind, and rain. All shelters will be positioned so that they are wheelchair accessible from all approaches. Shelters should have bus routes and schedules posted on signage with sizeable font and brail so that it is readable by riders of all abilities.

42. “Seniors lead” programming. In addition to have good community spaces, it’s a good idea to have seniors lead in developing programs that emphasis inter-generational connections both within and between families.

43. Nutritional programs and food security. Nutritional needs change throughout life. The Department of Public Health can work our local hospital and other healthcare providers to design and implement free health and nutritional learning and planning for seniors. Time swap volunteer programs might allow seniors to swap some time volunteering for vouchers at farmer’s markets and groceries.

44. City-sponsored free health screenings and celebration events. The local hospital, pharmacies, and community center can provide routine health screenings, free of charge to seniors (sponsored by the city and health donors) as part of public events like CiClivia or before concerts and sports events.

45. Home accommodation and emergency micro-loan programs. The fund shall also be used to provide financial assistance to senior homeowners who may be at risk of losing their homes. Ensuring that seniors can endure financial hardships and remain in their homes will foster their continued independence and potentially prolong the need for greater government-funded assistance.

46. Tax incentives for co-housing. Tax incentives can be provided to all housing developers who design or reconfigure properties to accommodate a multi-generational tenant base. This may include variation in unit sizes as well as the implementation social programs that not only target a variety of age groups but aim to connect the tenants across generations.

47. Support lifelong caregivers who have been uncompensated. Women and men who can substantiate long-term care to others, which has resulted in a loss of wages, social security and reduced pensions should be granted supplementary retirement income in the form of local service vouchers that ‘pay back’ service.

48. Build on the Great Streets idea to create “Gray Streets” as well. Most municipal leaders already know that multimodal transportation and great streets help cities thrive, but additional work done can be done to ensure that the built environment includes relatively small accommodations so that streets also meet the needs of seniors. Dangerous traffic conditions, uneven or dilapidated sidewalks, the lack of crosswalks, too-short crossing times, inadequate signage, and other issues can make walkability difficult or dangerous for elderly pedestrians.

49. Establish senior-friendly shopping districts. These districts designed to address the needs of older residents. Based on existing models in Bloomington, Indiana, and East Harlem, New York City, the areas will work with businesses and service providers to ensure that senior-friendly amenities are provided (fold-down chairs and benches at bus stops; age-friendly infrastructure in stores such as railing and easy-access doors; increased provision of public toilets; and special discounts for seniors in participating businesses). Other services for seniors, such as community health resources and targeted outreach programs, will be available in Aging Community Districts.

50. Appoint an “Aging Czar” to coordinate and advocate for services for senior citizens. The creation of a new position to address these needs signals the administration’s desire to better coordinate aging-related services, provide a system of accountability, and ensure that programs continue to meet the needs of diverse urban communities.

51. Use school buses not in use during school hours for the transportation needs of senior citizens. Most school buses remain under-use between 8:00 a.m. and 3:00 p.m. (normal school hours), a new program will create benefits at a minimal cost. The program is based on similar programs in New York and North Carolina that takes seniors to major shopping destinations.

52. Offer ride vouchers for senior citizens through ride-sharing companies like Uber and Lyft. As part of city negotiations with Uber, Lyft, and Sidecar about integrating their services into the regulatory fabric of the city, the ride-sharing companies can set aside free or heavily discounted ride vouchers for qualifying low-income city residents to travel to medical or shopping-related trips. Lack of opportunities for transportation often leads to isolation and economic hardship for many seniors and represent a barrier to aging-in-place strategies. Taxis can be effective ways to meet the travel needs of seniors, though there are sometimes barriers in terms of availability, drivers’ attitudes, and accessibility.

53. Neighborhood-based senior citizen action teams can pinpoint critical aging needs and participate in local advocacy process. With its diverse population, Los Angeles presents a challenge in terms of meeting the different needs from its many communities.


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One thought on “53 ways to foster an age-friendly city

  1. What a comprehensive list this is, and provided by young people. What a gift! I might add “Villages” is a concept being implimented locally and around the various states that allows people to remain in their own homes. Thanks for your thoughtful attention to senior’s needs.

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