The past decade has seen major changes in the demographics of aging throughout the world, and New York City is no exception. The population of New Yorkers age 65 and older has increased by more than 10 percent in the past 10 years—and that includes yours truly. Estimates predict that from 2005 to 2030, the number of New Yorkers who are age 65 and older will increase by nearly 50 percent, from 922,000 to more than 1.35 million.
As a group, older New Yorkers are living longer, healthier, and more active lives than ever. Many of us have remained in the workforce past the traditional retirement age. Others are seeking new opportunities to be socially engaged. And many in both groups are eager to help answer President Obama’s call to service by giving back to their communities.
New York City has a well-deserved reputation for being a trailblazer in the field of aging. We are home to the nation’s first senior center and first recognized Naturally Occurring Retirement Community. But as older New Yorkers continue to redefine the aging experience, government has a responsibility to keep pace and to find innovative ways to empower this community and improve its quality of life.
In 2007, the World Health Organization challenged cities around the world to make urban centers places where older people could live longer, healthier, and better lives. In New York City, our administration joined with the City Council and the New York Academy of Medicine (NYAM) to launch Age-Friendly NYC, a citywide effort to discover and implement ways to make our city friendly to New Yorkers of all ages.
When I was running the financial data and media company I founded in 1981, I learned very quickly that the best way to find out how to better serve your clients is to ask them. I’ve brought that same philosophy to city government and to the Age-Friendly NYC project.
Over the course of a year, the city and NYAM conducted town hall meetings and focus groups with older New Yorkers and those who serve them about the ups and downs of aging in New York City. And I can assure you that, being New Yorkers, they weren’t shy about sharing their opinions! We listened to what they told us, and we also asked commissioners of city agencies to take a close look at the age-friendliness of the services they provide. Out of that process, we developed 59 city-led initiatives designed to make our city even more friendly for people of all ages.
The 59 initiatives, which involve more than a dozen city agencies and numerous community partners, cover four main areas: 1) community and civic participation; 2) housing; 3) public spaces and transportation; and 4) health and social services. I’d like to highlight several initiatives that capture the spirit of the work we’re doing to promote a new way of thinking about aging in New York City.
My mother, who served on the governing board of her synagogue into her 90s and remains active at age 101, instilled in me the importance of service to others and the lesson that one can never be too young or too old to give back. One of the 59 initiatives—a citywide timebanking program called TimeBanksNYC—is an innovative approach to a timeless concept: neighbors helping neighbors.
Here’s how it works: Any New Yorker can search a database of activities and services being offered and in turn, post activities and services to offer. For example, a person can offer to tutor a TimeBanksNYC member in math while also taking advantage of dance lessons being offered by a different member. While older adults are a focus of the timebanking initiative, we are encouraging all New Yorkers to participate. Signing up is as easy as visiting a website (www.nyc.gov/timebanksnyc) or one of several drop-in locations throughout the city.
We are also aiming to re-imagine the concept of senior centers, which many older New Yorkers rely on for a daily meal and social activities. While community space and nutritious meals are still important to older New Yorkers, senior centers must continue to adapt to better serve a larger, more active and diverse older adult population. Using public and private funds, we will provide innovation grants to create new models of service at approximately 50 senior centers. These new centers will be located throughout the city and will serve as beacons for fostering new ideas and services.
For example, the city has partnered with the New York Sports Club, a citywide network of health clubs, to offer fitness classes in our senior centers at no cost, as well as to provide discounted club memberships to older New Yorkers. We have also launched an initiative in senior centers citywide to offer studio space to artists in return for their services, such as teaching art classes to senior center members. We see senior centers as venues where older adults might take a yoga class, renew their musical talents, or learn a new skill or even a new language. And as someone who takes a Spanish lesson nearly every day, I can say that it’s never too late!
In addition to developing a vision for our senior center network, which will adapt to meet the changing needs of our growing older adult population, we’ve been examining innovative ways to use existing resources to make it even easier for older New Yorkers to travel throughout the city. Subway stations without elevators and inconvenient bus routes can make simple tasks like grocery shopping difficult for older adults. Through a new program called MarketRide, school buses are being used during nonschool hours to transport older adults from senior centers to supermarkets. In addition, we are looking at how to better serve older adults and others who currently use Access-A-Ride, the city’s federally mandated paratransit service for persons who cannot use the subways and public buses. Because the large majority of our Access-A-Ride users are mobile enough to ride in a regular car, we are exploring a pilot initiative that would enable certain Access-A-Ride customers to use other forms of transportation, such as yellow taxis and black cars, that are more convenient and significantly less expensive.
Finally, we want to ensure that older adults—particularly those living with chronic illness—are able to live productive lives, manage their symptoms, and make decisions about medical care. The city is working with health care providers and others to promote the use of advance directives and to increase awareness about best practices in the field of palliative care. Many people remain unaware that palliative care is not limited to those with terminal conditions, so we recently held a conference to educate physicians and other leaders about the issue. We are also looking at strategies to make New Yorkers more aware of the benefits of palliative care and its potential to alleviate pain and otherwise improve the lives of friends, neighbors, parents, and grandparents who deal with serious illnesses every day so that they can live their lives to the fullest.
Bill Novelli, former CEO of AARP, rightfully labeled the years beyond age 50 as “the best time of your life.” Our progress in making New York City more age-friendly will be measured not only by how many older adults have chosen to continue making New York City their home, but also by how successful we’ve been in changing mindsets and attitudes so that all New Yorkers view this stage of life as one that is filled with activity and opportunity. And that will truly make New York City a city for all ages.
Michael R. Bloomberg is the 108th Mayor of the City of New York. Before taking office in January 2002, he was the Chief Executive Officer of Bloomberg LP, an international financial news and information services company that he founded in 1981. Mayor Bloomberg began his career as a clerk at the Wall Street firm, Salomon Brothers, where he rose to the position of general partner. He holds a bachelor’s degree from Johns Hopkins University and an MBA from Harvard Business School.