Op-Ed: How we’re making Boston an age-friendly city

June 9, 2017
By

By Mayor Martin Walsh

What does it mean to be an age-friendly city? It means a city that adapts its structures and services to provide accessibility and inclusion to residents of all ages and abilities. That’s why we’ve created the Age-Friendly Boston Action Plan to serve as our City’s blueprint to make Boston the best city to live and age in.

Older Bostonians are the fastest growing segment of Boston’s population, and we have a duty to focus on making our City as friendly and inclusive to our residents as they age. Together with the community, we’ve identified important growth opportunities and will provide real, impactful solutions to those who live here.

In 2014, Boston signed onto the World Health Organization (WHO)’s network of Age-Friendly Cities, and we began to look at how we can make our City better for all. In the past two years, we held over 30 listening sessions in four languages, received 3,700 survey responses in six languages, and heard the voices of over 4,000 older adults represented from 23 neighborhoods. Along with the feedback gained from our residents, 70 organizations participated in developing our plan. The result is Boston’s first-ever Age-Friendly Action Plan, led by our Elderly Commission and involving more than 25 City departments. The plan consists of 75 action items that will make us an age-friendly city.

Determining how best to make Boston more age-friendly has been a grassroots effort made up of diverse voices ages 50 and over from all of Boston’s neighborhoods. We made it our goal to reach every corner of Boston to deeply engage with our communities and find out what their needs are. We wanted to find out what the strengths and weaknesses our City has so that we can keep what’s working the way it is and make changes where we should.

The 75 action items we identified touch upon eight main concerns of living and aging well in a city. They are: housing, transportation, outdoor spaces and buildings, community support and health services, civic engagement and employment, social participation, respect and social inclusion; and communication and information.

When looking at housing, it became clear to us that one of the main concerns was whether residents would be able to stay in their homes and neighborhoods as they age. That’s why we’ve decided to focus on increasing access to tax-relief programs, home repair and other homeowner support programs including education sessions for renters, and better coordination of services to prevent displacement.

Transportation was another major concern as reduced mobility is often something that accompanies older age. Together with our Go Boston 2030 and Vision Zero initiatives, we plan to create Age-Friendly walking spaces near high concentrations of older residents. This means adding improved crosswalk timing and markings, good lighting, places to take a rest and sidewalks that are easily navigable so that those with reduced mobility can get around too.

We know access to outdoor spaces is important to our residents as they age. The Age Friendly Boston Action Plan will make sure that the park redesign planning process is inclusive of older adults, resulting in parks that are good for people of all ages.

Community health and support systems are key to improving the lives of older residents. In our plan, Boston will work to reduce social isolation, improve economic security, and support those with dementia and their caregivers. My own grandmother suffered from dementia, and I know how important it is for families to have access to support and resources they need.

Respect and social inclusion are the cornerstones to happy, healthy communities for all. In our Age-Friendly Action Plan, we will partner with Boston Main Streets to train our local businesses on age and dementia-friendly business practices so that we can make sure our older residents have the respect they need and deserve.

Boston’s older residents have a wealth of experience, skills and talent. We will connect older adults to volunteer opportunities, recognize them for their contributions and identify and address the barriers that exist in employment for those over 50. In Boston, we will be mapping opportunities for engagement and identifying any gaps that exist in our programming, as well as looking at the way we promote our events so that more of our older adults feel connected to the community.

Finally, we’re making our communications and information services more age-friendly. In compiling our report and action plan, we learned that Boston residents want to know how to get involved and how they can access programs and supports. To do this, the Elderly Commission will create a comprehensive communication strategy to reach older Bostonians.

This plan ties in with many of our other city-wide planning efforts including Go Boston 2030, our transportation plan; Housing a Changing City, our housing plan; Vision Zero Boston, our pledge to end fatal and serious traffic crashes; and finally Imagine Boston 2030, our strategic plan for the decade to come. While our City has many plans, we have one goal: make Boston the best place for each and every one of our unique residents.

This plan wouldn’t have been possible without our partners at AARP, the partnership formed between our Elderly Commission and the UMass Boston Gerontology Institute, and support from the Tufts Health Plan Foundation. I encourage you to visit boston.gov/age-friendly to read the full plan, and learn about how we’re making Boston an Age-Friendly city.

 

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