On Saturday, February 28, 2015, the City of Boston held its Civic Academy session at Faneuil Hall focused on the Age-Friendly Boston Initiative. The City of Boston, in partnership with AARP and the UMass Boston Gerontology Institute, has begun the 5-year process of becoming a World Health Organization recognized Age Friendly City. The process includes a needs assessment of the city, followed by an action plan and movement to improve identified deficits in 8 designated domains: outdoor spaces and buildings, transportation, housing, social participation, respect and social inclusion, civic participation and employment, communication and information, and community and health services.
The Civic Academy event served as an introduction of the Initiative to the community and as a preliminary opportunity to hear from community members and advocates about strengths and opportunities for improvement among the 8 domains for aging in Boston. Speakers included Emily Shea, Commissioner of Elder Affairs; Andrea Burns, Director of the Age Friendly Initiative; Michael Festa, state AARP director; Boston Mayor Marty Walsh; and UMass Boston’s Jan Mutchler.
Mayor Walsh emphasized the importance of inclusion of community members in the planning for Boston as the City is faced with the growth of two major populations: seniors and students. Addressing the needs of the senior population in Boston requires paying attention to the student population as well. For example, to address limited housing options for seniors, colleges and universities are encouraged to build more on campus housing for their students to alleviate private housing limitations for other residents. Mayor Walsh and his administration are taking an active role in addressing the needs of older residents in the City but hope to “make something very strong stronger” and aim to do so through the Age Friendly Initiative.
The UMass Boston Gerontology Institute is the research partner for the Initiative. Jan Mutchler and her research team will be collecting massive amounts of data under the 8 domains through a variety of methods to capture the state of the City as it relates to aging over the next year and a half. Saturday’s Civic Academy was the first opportunity to collect data from community members, who were given the chance to express concerns and suggestions about the current state of the City.
Though participants remained positive about the Initiative and the City as a whole, residents expressed concerns about the City’s responsiveness to the needs of seniors. Issues brought up included food security, prescription medication support, public safety, and walkability. There was an expressed interest in senior centers, both by neighborhood and for the whole City, so seniors have a dedicated space for health and recreation.
Other concerns included communication and team work. City government departments need to work together to address the needs of seniors and to better communicate with one another and with the population they serve. Boston has a wealth of resources for seniors, however, they need to be better connected so that seniors have a more comprehensive system of formal support.