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Creating Livable Communities for Seniors in the Empire State

Amy Rogers’ efforts to cross the Manhattan intersection of Amsterdam, Broadway and West 71st Street used to be fraught with danger. But the crossing has been made safer as part of the city’s age-friendly efforts. AARP New York is encouraging other communities around the state to adopt age-friendly practices. Photo by Beth Perkins

• By Sondra Forsyth

When Amy Rogers moved into an apartment on Manhattan’s Upper West Side in 2010, she didn’t count on trying to navigate the “Bowtie of Death” intersection where 71st Street, Broadway and Amsterdam Avenue converge.

Rogers, 65, uses a cane when walking. Getting from one curb to the other before the light changed was a challenge.

In 2011, New York City’s Safe Streets for Seniors project solved her problem.
The Department of Transportation reconfigured the pedestrian island, extended crossing times and added countdown traffic signals. “Now I can get over to the bus stop, the shops and the restaurants,” Rogers said. “It’s great for the community.”

New York is one of dozens of locales worldwide participating in the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Global Network of Age-friendly Cities project committed to taking steps to enhance older residents’ health, security and participation in local activities.

Effort under way in 7 states

AARP has been affiliated with the WHO effort since 2012 and is helping communities meet their age-friendly goals. Preliminary AARP age-friendly efforts are under way in seven states: Georgia, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, New York, Oregon and Pennsylvania, as well as Washington, D.C.

“The AARP Network of Age-Friendly Communities is an excellent framework to make improvements that allow people to age in place,” said Will Stoner, AARP New York associate state director.

AARP New York has been working in several communities around the state to help them meet the needs of their aging populations.

Among those locations is Westchester County, which AARP named in 2012 as one of the nation’s first seven “Age-Friendly Communities.” Westchester was cited for its efforts to help older residents by providing safe and affordable transportation and encouraging healthy lifestyles.

“One example is the Living Well Livable Communities Workshops series that teaches people with chronic diseases such as diabetes how to manage their conditions,” said Mae Carpenter, commissioner of Westchester’s Department of Senior Programs and Services. “A hands-down favorite was ‘Staying Sharp,’ a free forum on brain health in White Plains sponsored by AARP New York and the Dana Alliance for Brain Initiatives.” The county is continuing those programs.

Edwin Bowman, a White Plains resident in his late 60s, attended the Staying Sharp forum. As cofounder of a workforce consulting firm, he was interested in learning ways to boost and maintain cognitive function through physical fitness.

“I still do the exercises I learned that day,” he said. “They taught us easy ways to stay active such as standing up and sitting back down in your chair. I came home so pumped up that I told everybody about the regimen!”

Creating crime-free oases

Rochester is another city where AARP New York has been working with municipal officials and non-profit agencies to help the older population thrive.

Wanda Martinez, 53, an AARP volunteer, has been participating in “Project HOPE” since 2008 to help transform formerly gritty stretches of Rochester into crime-free oases with community gardens.

Other communities are also adopting age-friendly programs. Stoner noted that Brookhaven, on Long Island, recently became the first town in the AARP Network of Age-Friendly Communities.

“AARP is working across the nation and New York to create neighborhoods where seniors of all abilities, incomes and backgrounds can live with dignity and pleasure,” Stoner said.

Sondra Forsyth is a freelance writer and editor living in New York, N.Y.

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