By Josh Cohen.
U.S. cities can be unkind to elderly residents, with services and social opportunities spread out and access difficult for people without a personal vehicle or the ability to drive. Transit in many cities doesn’t fill the gap. People with limited mobility are poorly served by streets, sidewalks and other public spaces built with lax adherence to the accessibility requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Housing affordability can be a struggle for a senior citizen on a fixed income.
In Columbus, Ohio, where the number of residents age 65 and older is set to double over the next three decades, the city wants to change that narrative.
In 2015, the city joined the World Health Organization and AARP’s Network for Age-Friendly Cities and launched the Age-Friendly Columbus initiative. Last week, it released the Age-Friendly Strategic Plan, which outlines policy and infrastructure goals for improving public spaces, housing, transportation, social inclusion, emergency preparedness, and more for older residents.
“We know that the majority of residents want to age in their home,” says Katie White, Age-Friendly Columbus coordinator. “We’re supporting them with proactive planning. It will require a modification of services, making sure their needs are met before a crisis happens.”
Fixing the built environment is a key piece of the puzzle. Missing curb cuts, broken sidewalk and street surfaces, a lack of ramps into buildings, short crosswalk signals, walkways too narrow for people with walkers or wheelchair users all make cities difficult and even dangerous to navigate for people with mobility impairments.