Community meetings, such as this one in East Boston, are being held throughout the city to gather information on senior residents’ concerns.
By Valerie Franchi, Contributing Writer
Boston, like many other cities, has a growing population of residents over 50. According to Emily Shea, commissioner of elderly affairs, a demographic report on aging in the city conducted by the UMass Boston Gerontology Institute predicts a significant increase in the older adult population – from 88,000 currently to 130,000 in 2030. It also showed the growth of a more diverse ethnicities among the elder population.
To prepare for this growth, in May 2014 Mayor Martin Walsh enrolled Boston in the Age-Friendly Cities initiative, an international effort launched in 2006 by the World Health Organization in affiliation with AARP. The program has participating communities in more than 20 nations, as well as 10 affiliates representing more than 1,000 communities. In the U.S., more than three dozen communities representing more than a dozen states are enrolled.
“Mayor Walsh wants Boston to be prepared to face the changing demographic,” Shea noted. “This project is important to the mayor. He is clearly someone that respects the elderly and wants to ensure the city is functioning and supports older adults.”
The program requires a five-year commitment and addresses eight aspects of daily life – transportation, housing, social participation, respect and social inclusion, civic participation and employment, communication and information, community support and health services, and outdoor spaces and buildings.
By November 2014, Shea said, the project was “up and running” with a newly appointed director – Andrea Burns – a staff and a budget.
“The first one to two years is focused on assessing community needs,” Burns said. “One of the first steps was to create a survey and distribute it to Boston’s various neighborhoods.”
She noted that the survey was translated into five different languages to reach as many residents as possible in the more than 20 neighborhoods.
“We are a city of neighborhoods, so we are approaching key groups in each one – senior centers, advocate groups, churches,” she said.
The committee has been holding community meetings open to the public to obtain feedback on how it is to age in the city, challenges faced and solutions, and the city’s strengths.
“Hundreds of residents have attended the meetings and at least 1,000 have completed surveys,” Burns said, adding that the goal is to have 5,000 residents’ input.
Already, according to Shea, they are “seeing some issues that are cutting across neighborhoods.”
One of the most common issues, she said, is housing affordability and increased property taxes.
“Many people have lived here all their lives and are worried that they won’t be able to continue to afford living here,” Shea noted.
Another issues is communication and information.
“We can have all the services in the world, but unless there is a way to get the information to residents, they will not be utilized,” she said.
Among the city’s strengths were its parks and libraries.
“The residents seem to be utilizing and appreciating what Boston has to offer,” Shea said.
The Gerontology Institute’s Center for Social and Demographic Research on Aging will compile the information into a report hopefully by early 2016, according to Shea, which will lead to the development of an action plan.
The timing of the Age-Friendly initiative couldn’t be better, Shea noted.
“This is an incredibly opportune time,” she said. “The city is now undergoing an update to its master plan called ‘Imagine Boston.’ Our plan is earlier than this plan. We will have our results in hand to be included in master plan so we can synchronize with the city and have our data and recommendations synthesized into master plan.”
The committee will be conducting surveys until the end of the year and encourages residents over 50 to participate.
Since Boston joined the Age-Friendly initiative, other Massachusetts towns – New Bedford, North Adams, Pittsfield and Salem – have enrolled as of September.
For more information, call 617-287-7361 or visit agefriendlyboston.wordpress.com. To take the survey, click on “Blog.”