This January, the Academy will begin its 170th year of working to make New York one of the world’s healthiest cities. To mark decades of achievement and share some of the Academy’s pioneering and inventive plans for the future, I’m going to use this space—over the next several months—to share highlights from our recent history and report on our newest efforts to inform policy, initiate programs and conduct research that will continue to advance health in urban communities.
Our reputation for evidence-based policy and working with communities to make sure that their voices are heard, as well as our commitment to people and communities who live with the greatest burden of disease, will be even stronger as we enter this new political chapter.
Advancing an Age-friendly NYC
As you may know, New York City is one of the best places in the country to grow older. One of the Academy’s proudest recent accomplishments has been leading the effort to make New York an award-winning, age-friendly city, along with our partners former Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Mayor Bill de Blasio and the New York City Council.
In 2006, the World Health Organization offered us the challenge of building on lessons learned in 35 cities, across 22 countries, about making a city a healthy place to age. With more than 2 million New Yorkers over 65 at the time and the number projected to grow to 40 percent of our population in roughly 25 years, we were delighted to make those recommendations the foundation for our Age-friendly NYC (AF-NYC) initiative.
On a momentous morning in 2008, when we gathered at New York’s City Hall—community leaders, advocates for older adults, policy makers and health care leaders—we knew we were on our way to making New York a more vibrant, engaging, supportive, safe and enjoyable city for older New Yorkers.
Doris Robinson, then nearing her 100th birthday sat beaming, near the front of the room, with her daughter Mamie, looking on proudly; reminding us with their very presence that we all needed to see aging as an opportunity to enjoy more of life, not a problem to be solved.
That day, we unveiled our findings from conversations with thousands of New Yorkers, ages 60 and older, from all over the city, service providers, health and non-profit sector experts. We brought together more than 20 city agencies, including the departments of transportation, parks, city planning—and many representatives of agencies with the power to improve health and wellbeing in the city and we got great results.
The older New Yorkers we spoke with were passionate about their love for the city and gave us hundreds of ideas about how we could make this an even better place to grow older.
We took that information to the city’s policy makers who responded with 59 initiatives designed to establish an infrastructure to strengthen quality of life and opportunities for engagement for the city’s older adults. The report, “Age-friendly NYC: Enhancing Our City's Livability for Older New Yorkers,” laid out a roadmap for government action. And, the Mayor’s office created an Age-friendly NYC Commission of leaders from across the private sector to oversee progress and produce their own action agenda.
Eight years later, we can proudly say that AF-NYC is a continually evolving success story. When a cross-walk countdown clock gives not only a grandmother, but a young mom with toddlers in tow, extra time to safely cross the street—that’s AF-NYC at work. When nearly 1,000 delighted seniors get free, healthy workouts at private pool parties at NYC parks each summer, that’s AF-NYC at work.
When an older adult strolls into a local business that knows how to accommodate their needs as they bank, grocery shop, or even take a free computer class at the Apple Store, that’s AF-NYC at work.
The Academy has also created other health-supporting resources, such as our report, “Resilient Communities: Empowering Older Adults in Disasters and Daily Life,” written after Hurricane Sandy, when it became clear we needed policy recommendations to make New York and other urban areas safer for older people during natural disasters. The City Voices report “Aging: Health Challenges and the Role of Social Connections,” was published just this year.
We also continue to provide consultations and technical assistance worldwide, where policy makers are implementing the age-friendly model. We have consulted with people in nearly 60 cities.
Through research, mapping city resources, working with arts institutions, social services agencies, and convening experts here and internationally, we have worked to make New York City a healthy, life-affirming home for every generation.
This year, after the launch of age-friendly activities and aging improvement districts in nearly 50 percent of NYC neighborhoods, 3,000 newly designed bus shelters, a 10 percent reduction in senior pedestrian fatalities and—most important—thousands of hours spent listening to older New Yorkers—we are embarking on the next phase of Age-friendly NYC and taking the program into the future.
Our Age-friendly Commission working groups are leading projects and creating resources focused on media, arts and culture; housing; primary care; financial services; and public safety. In addition, the Mayor’s office is reconvening city agencies to develop new commitments for an age-friendly NYC.
In January, we will launch a new funding initiative to help communities do more for the older adults in their neighborhoods and we will continue to expand and enrich our age-friendly neighborhood programs.
Through these activities and many others, we will also continue to address critical, cross-cutting issues that affect older New Yorkers—social justice and equity; intergenerational communication; and rapidly changing technologies—as part of our sweeping effort to make NYC a safer, healthier and happier place for older adults in 2017 and beyond. Our goal is to have a sustainable, age-friendly initiative in all New York City council districts by 2018.
Jo Ivey Boufford, MD