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Creating More Age-Friendly Cities Worldwide

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Age Friendly Cities

Rapidly urbanizing world populations are also rapidly aging. The number of people aged over 60 worldwide is expected to double from 11 percent to 22 percent by 2050 [i]. The need to adapt cities to meet the needs of an aging population is more important now than ever, and creating connected cities accessible for all ages is an integral part of responding to these demographic shifts. The World Health Organization (WHO) has been at the forefront of fostering responsible policymaking and networking related to aging in cities, and organized its Age Friendly Cities Project [ii] in 2005.

Thirty-three cities across the globe are participating in the program, “encourag[ing] active aging by optimizing opportunities for health, participation, and security in order to enhance quality of life as people age [iii]." By consulting with older residents, community leaders, and experts in each of these cities, WHO created a Checklist of Essential Features of Age-Friendly Cities that has enabled individuals, organizations, and policymakers worldwide to assess their city’s age- friendliness and refine their action map for improvements [iv].

This checklist is a fantastic resource for city planners, community organizations, and individuals interested in charting their cities’ progress on age-friendliness. Indeed, WHO’s facilitation of this global network has been integral to the growing interest in aging policy and dialogue; these initiatives have pushed cities to bolster opportunities for older people to be active participants in society.

Age Friendly in Portland

In 2010, WHO’s Age Friendly Cities Project grew into the Global Network of Age-Friendly Cities and Communities (GNAFCC). The GNAFCC builds on the Age Friendly Cities project while pushing cities to enter a cycle of assessment, action, and evaluation related to aging initiatives. Portland, Oregon is one of two GNAFCC cities in the United States (the other being New York City) and the only American city to participate in the original Age Friendly Cities project. Through its participation in the Age Friendly Cities Project and membership in the GNAFCC, Portland conducted an extensive survey of the amenities, services, and policies related to aging in the city. While the city has a variety of green spaces, transportation options, and services for older residents, Portland is transitioning to build more affordable housing, create better health-care resources, and provide better low-income services to the city’s older residents [iv]. The April 2012 Portland Plan contains initiatives to ensure that “older adults (and all Portlanders) have access to safe neighborhoods, decent housing, healthy food, efficient public transit, and parks and green spaces” in the long-term [v].

Aging Improvement Districts in New York City

As a member of the GNAFCC, New York City has also prioritized creating an age-friendly environment by making the city’s transportation network, services, cultural institutions, health care, and neighborhoods more inclusive and accessible for older citizens [vi]. Age-Friendly New York City is piloting an Aging Improvement District program in East Harlem, the Upper West Side, and Bedford-Stuyvesant [vii]. Older residents, community leaders, local non-profit organizations, and policymakers work together to implement low-cost changes to creating more accessible public spaces, accessible businesses, and increasing supportive services. Changes such as lengthening street crossing times, increasing accessibility to city parks, and placing artists in senior centers have increased older residents’ mobility and inclusion in city society are making New York City’s neighborhoods more livable for older residents and bridging intergenerational gaps in the city.

Age Friendly in Phoenix and the City Leaders Institute on Aging in Place

The City of Phoenix and surrounding communities in Maricopa County, Arizona have begun efforts to prepare for the impending “age wave” by investing in local and regional partnerships in order to make the region more age friendly. Recently, the Greater Phoenix region and Maricopa Association of Governments (MAG) announced their commitment to participate in the MetLife Foundation City Leaders Institute on Aging in Place and focus efforts on develop and implementing sustainable Aging in Place models to connect services and social outlets of the older adult community to improve the health and wellness of the overall community and to create opportunities and use the talents of their older population within their communities.

Looking at unique models—ranging from senior “villages” to senior centers without walls—the greater Phoenix region and MAG have teamed with local foundations, nonprofits and communities to pilot new methods of delivering services that involve the whole community and ways of engaging all generations. As one guiding principle, the region is valuing the creation of a community-driven program for developing pilot models that are sustainable for the entire range of income levels. With support from Partners for Livable Communities and the MetLife Foundation City Leaders Institute on Aging in Place, the region is looking to encourage participation as a way to actively engage communities of all ages.  

You can view more on Phoenix's involvement on the City Leaders Institute on Aging in Place at the Arizona Public Broadcasting Service (AZ PBS) by clicking here. 

[i] World Helath Organization. "WHO Age-Friendly Environment Programme."  Aging and Life Course, Last Modified 2012. http://www.who.int/ageing/age_friendly_cities/en
[ii] Ibid.
[iii] World Health Organization. "Global Age-Friendly Cities: A Guide." Aging and Life Course, Family and Community Health, 2007.
[iv] Neal, Margaret B., and Alan DeLaTorre. "World Health Organization's Age-Friendly Cities Project in Portland, Oregon." Summary of Findings, 2007
[v] Ibid. 
[vi] The Office of The Mayor, The New York City Council, and The New York Academy of Medicine. "Creating an Age-friendly NYC, One Neighborhood at a Time." Age Friendly New York City,Last modified 2012. Accessed May 23, 2012. http://www.nyam.org/agefriendlynyc/initiatives/current/aging-improvement-districts.html.
[vii] Ibid.