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Real Possibilities: An Age-Friendly Honolulu

The city and county of Honolulu will look at all programs, facilities and services now and going forward to see how they affect all generations from kupuna to keiki.

That’s because of a new law authored by Councilmember Ann Kobayashi and signed by Mayor Kirk Caldwell earlier this month that creates an Age-Friendly Honolulu program in city government.

It’s a giant step forward in creating a more livable Honolulu – making our city a better place to grow up and grow old in.

It means that parks should have exercise areas for adults as well as playgrounds for children and when the city approves developments around transit stations, the new communities that are created will be planned with facilities and services for people of all ages. Developers and planners should be looking at senior centers and daycare in addition to childcare so caregivers and parents can drop off loved ones when taking the train to work.

The new law has been years in the making. The city started adopting age-friendly principles in 2013, when Honolulu applied for World Health Organization and AARP designation as an Age-Friendly Community.

Councilmember Ann Kobayashi, who wrote the Age-Friendly Honolulu bill, was part of those efforts.

“We have to keep everybody in mind,” Kobayashi said. “We should help seniors as much as possible and keep them healthy with exercise programs and making parks accessible.”

Helping seniors is a passion for Kobayashi, who grew up in a multi-generational home.

“I was always watching how hard everyone worked and believe they deserve to have their last years enjoying life,” she said.

The new law requires every city department to review its services, facilities and projects to make sure that they are age friendly. It also requires departments to report on their progress toward age-friendly goals.

That reporting requirement gives teeth to the law and ensures that there will be measurable progress. Putting age-friendly principles into law also ensures that projects that begin now will continue under the next mayor and city council.

Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell said the first age-friendly changes the public may see is a review of street crossings that could result in better lighting around crosswalks and safer streets and sidewalks.

Making improvements for older residents doesn’t just benefit kupuna, the mayor noted. If you make a sidewalk or building more accessible for someone in a walker or wheelchair, you are also making it more accessible for a mother with a baby stroller.

Caldwell envisions parks as gathering places with paths where kids, parents and grandparents can walk or bike together and shade trees with accessible benches where older adults can watch their kids or grandkids play.

Kupuna shouldn’t feel trapped in high-rise apartments, the mayor said. Grocery stores, outdoor activities, doctors’ offices and other services should be nearby and accessible. It should be enticing and easy for them to leave their apartments.

“How do you create a community where you take care of everybody from our keiki to our seniors?”

That’s the city’s new mandate.

This story originally appeared in The Hawaii Herald.

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