The Market to MOHAI project aims to make Seattle more walkable and age-friendly. Photo by Joe Freeman Jr.

By Dana E. Neuts

Thirty years after retiring from Boeing, John Pehrson, 91, of Seattle, is helping the city become age-friendly.

Pehrson is the volunteer chairman of the Market to MOHAI project. When complete, the 1.4-mile pedestrian corridor will stretch 20 blocks from Pike Place Market to the Museum of History & Industry (MOHAI) at South Lake Union.

The corridor will include lighting and signage aimed at pedestrians and connect two Seattle landmarks and four parks—Lake Union, Denny, Bell Street and Victor Steinbrueck. It will also meet or surpass requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

John Pehrson is the volunteer chairman of the Market to MOHAI project. Photo by Ian C. Batest

“We wanted to create a pedestrian corridor that was well lit, engaging, safe and comfortable,” Pehrson said.

Overall, the city has earmarked $535,000 for the Market to MOHAI project ($500,000 for lighting, $10,000 for a summer festival in the parks and $25,000 in a neighborhood matching grant). Other funders include Amazon, Vulcan, Clise Properties, Google and Facebook.

Joining the AARP Network of Age-Friendly Communities in 2016 (the network has more than 220 localities nationwide), Seattle hit the ground running to address the eight aspects of livability defined in the program: outdoor spaces and buildings, transportation, housing, social participation, respect and social inclusion, civic participation and employment, communication and information, and community and health services.

Programs already underway
Last year, as part of its Age Friendly Seattle initiative, the city sponsored programs including an “Aging the LGBTQ Way” forum, an African American caregiving conference and a women’s forum; funding of innovation grants to promote healthy aging; and a three-day “City for All” civic technology hackathon to brainstorm solutions for making Seattle more age-friendly. AARP contributed $10,000 in prize funds.

Other initiatives included a sidewalk assessment for which 14 college interns walked 2,300 miles of city sidewalks to determine where improvements and repairs are needed. There will also be a training program to teach city staff how to effectively communicate with older adults.

In addition, city leaders are focused on affordable housing and preventing homelessness.

“We need to build more affordable housing,” Mayor Jenny Durkan (D) said in an email interview. “My administration recently announced a $100 million investment to make housing more affordable in Seattle, and I’ve specifically allocated $11 million of that money to creating low-income housing for seniors.”

She added that “2018 is going to bring us much closer to our end goal: a Seattle that is affordable and livable for everyone in this city.”

City Councilmember Sally Bagshaw (D) has long been a champion of age-friendliness. She said she’s excited to see the concept include people of all ages and abilities. She envisions safe pedestrian and bicycle corridors where all generations will walk and ride side by side.

“In Seattle we have a reputation for trying new things that are progressive and out front,” Bagshaw said. “It is in our DNA, and we’re getting people to think about it. Age-friendly is for all of us.”

Learn more about Age Friendly Seattle at seattle.gov/agefriendly.

Dana E. Neuts is a freelance writer based in Seattle.