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The city's first pilot Aging Improvement District is in East Harlem, sponsored by Councilwoman Melissa Mark-Viverito. It is led by an advisory group of leaders from varied sectors in East Harlem including elected officials, senior services, businesses, cultural institutions, housing and older adults.
The initiative began with a dozen community discussions in the neighborhood conducted in English, Spanish and Cantonese with more than 200 older adults. The aim was to learn what older adults feel are the neighborhood's strengths and how the neighborhood can be improved. Discussions were held at churches, senior centers, community gardens, with tenants' associations, and on the street to reach a wide array of people.
The findings from these discussions were illustrated through a film narrated only by the voices of the neighborhood's older adults (the film can be viewed here). The film and findings were presented at a large and exciting community event for hundreds of the neighborhood’s older adults and leaders. The presentation was followed by a collective brainstorm of solutions with older adults and city, business and community leaders working together.
Following the event, the advisory group developed a strategy to address the findings. The strategy focuses on issues like increasing seating for older adults inside and outside, especially in locations where people wait on lines, improving access to laundry, improving access to swimming pools, improving safety and access to the intersection of 125th St. and Lexington Avenue as a transportation and shopping hub, and connecting older adults to existing community events and resources and making those resources and events more age-friendly.
Early successes include special hours for older adults at the Thomas Jefferson Park Pool, increased seating at more than 60 neighborhood businesses, efforts to improve laundry access in public housing and efforts by neighborhood museums, restaurants and libraries to improve access and programming for older adult residents.