Cities are like living organisms, constantly evolving and changing. Philadelphia is a prime example, starting as a port and growing to be the capital of our nation and a manufacturing powerhouse, all before 1800. It continued as a major industrial city well into the twentieth century.
But by the 1970s, Philadelphia began to suffer from disinvestment, as did many other “Rust Belt” cities. Industrial firms packed up and manufacturing plants shuttered their doors. Many middle-class jobs disappeared and with them, the people who depended on that income.
The Philadelphia of today is much different from the Philadelphia of the 1970s. Slowly and steadily, we have adjusted to the new climate we face. Philadelphia climbed from a city struggling to survive to a comeback city, now positioned to be a front-runner. We have a booming education sector; a flourishing medical technology, hospital, and pharmaceutical industry; and a thriving hospitality and tourism market, which generated $9.34 billion in economic impact during 2011.
Philadelphia’s economic rebound has fed into our population growth. According to the 2010 census, our population grew for the first time in more than 60 years. The growth isn’t solely from births, young people remaining after college to find work, or young families deciding Philadelphia has more to offer than the suburbs. Some of the growth consists of people who left Philadelphia years ago but have returned as empty nesters.
As the City of Brotherly Love and Sisterly Affection, we are committed to being a great place to live, work, and visit. It is our goal to improve the quality of life for all residents. But different populations have different needs. Of the 10 largest cities in America, Philadelphia has the largest proportion of people 60 years and older, approximately 276,000 people. That number is expected to double by 2035 as the last of the baby boomers, myself included, enter their golden years.
In demonstration of our commitment to supporting, serving, and connecting with our seniors, we have joined the World Health Organization’s Global Network of Age-Friendly Cities and Communities. Our move toward age-friendliness began with the reinvigoration of the Mayor’s Commission on Aging and the drafting of a strategic plan to outline the city’s vision on aging and livability. From connecting older people to city services to helping them age in place, the commission works with external partners, like the Philadelphia Corporation for Aging, and other city agencies to meet the needs of older Philadelphians.
Our administration believes the lynchpin for success as an age-friendly city is accessibility; access to anything and everything in which older people want to participate.
Transportation is a critical component of an age-friendly, accessible city. For older people, it must be affordable and reliable. Affordability is a particular concern for older adults because transportation costs are the second largest cost after housing.
The City of Philadelphia is reliably serviced by the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA). It is the nation’s fifth largest transportation system, with the most seamless intermodal system of buses, subways, commuter rails, and trolleys in the United States.
Philadelphians 65 and older are eligible for the free-ride system. About 200,000 Philadelphia-area residents are enrolled in the program. Though regional rail trips are not free to older residents, they pay a reduced fare of only $1. All SEPTA buses, trolleys, and trains are wheelchair accessible and have lower platforms to make boarding easier for older patrons. And priority seating is available on all public transportation across the city.
At the 280 transit stations, there are 89 elevators at regional rail, subway, and multimodal transportation centers. Across Philadelphia, there are 304 bus shelters, which can play a role in whether or not an older person decides to use public transportation.
In 2009, I signed the Complete Streets Executive Order, which outlined how all 2,600 miles of streets in Philadelphia are designed, built, and maintained, making accommodations for all who use the roads, not just drivers. Philadelphia is the first city in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to have a Complete Streets policy.
Since then, we have created 200 miles of bike lanes and also focused on accessible and safe streets. Through clearly marked intersections and crosswalks, updated curb cuts, and traffic signals in proper working order, the Complete Streets policy helps make Philadelphia a safer and more walkable city. Complete Streets also sets the goal of creating more outdoor seating at bus shelters and along streets.
Increasing accessibility and efficiency also means a greener, healthier environment by reducing our carbon footprint; transit-oriented development incorporates both accessibility and efficiency into new building projects. The theory of transit-oriented development is very simple: place new, high-density residential and mixed use developments near transit hubs for the benefit of pedestrians, bicyclists, and public transportation users.
One example is the Farmers Market at Frankford Transportation Center, which has just concluded its second season. Conveniently located at a heavily used transit station, this market makes fresh produce available to bus and SEPTA commuters and community members in a neighborhood where grocery stores are few and far between.
Getting around is getting easier in Philadelphia, but where to go and what to do is another part of being an age-friendly city. Part of our approach to being an accessible city is to bring local food and parks and recreation resources closer to citizens. Under our GreenWorks Philadelphia plan, we have outlined 15 measurable goals to make Philadelphia a more sustainable city.
To create equitable access to healthy neighborhoods, we have set the goal of bringing recreation resources and local fresh food within 10 minutes of 75 percent of residents. Philadelphia already has Fairmount Park, the largest municipally owned park system in the country, with 9,200 acres of parkland, but we want to create even more public green space.
To enhance Philadelphians’ access to locally grown, healthy food, I appointed the Philadelphia Food Policy Advisory Council, which works with local partners more broadly on how Philadelphia can be a productive partner in the regional food system. The largest push to bring local food closer to residents has been Get Healthy Philly, a federally funded Philadelphia Department of Public Health program. Get Healthy Philly works with farmers markets, food cart vendors, the grocery industry, and corner stores to bring healthy and affordable foods to low-income communities.
Food access is at the heart of accessibility concerns for older people in Philadelphia. Food insecurity affects not just those who live in poverty; it also affects those who live isolated from others or experience mobility or health issues. The Mayor’s Commission on Aging assembled the Senior Hunger Task Force to address this issue and to streamline the resources of home-delivered meals services. The result was the production of a Senior Hunger Resource Guide, published in October and distributed to senior centers, community centers, and other city venues, as well as accessible online.
Participation and social inclusion is an age-friendly city requirement. We have tried to foster an environment in which people do not feel limited by their age. Across the city, 23 senior community centers and 11 satellite centers host weekly events for older people, such as book clubs, art classes, and karaoke, at little to no cost. Our KEYSPOTS program offers computer and Internet training classes at participating library branches and KEYSPOT centers, which helps keep older people engaged in the broader community. More than 11 percent of all KEYSPOT participants are older people.
For decades, Philadelphia has embraced its diversity and worked to build an inclusive community for everyone. Older Philadelphians, older Pennsylvanians, and older Americans have helped build the America we all live in and deserve to live fulfilled and productive lives. That requires cities to get involved to meet their needs and expectations for specialized programs and services.
Michael A. Nutter
Re-elected in 2011 to his second term as Mayor of Philadelphia, the fifth largest city in America and his home town, Mayor Michael A. Nutter is a life-long public servant. Since taking office in January 2008, Michael Nutter has vigorously managed city government by maintaining core services and reducing the city's spending—most notably closing a $2.4 billion gap in Philadelphia's five-year plan.