Age friendliness in action – practical assistance for older people in New York City

Judith Davey


It is hard to imagine that any city in New Zealand could learn from New York, USA. Its population is over 20 million, five times that of the whole of this country. But it provides some great ideas about age-friendliness – a topic I have been working on recently.

In 2007 the New York City Council, working with the New York Academy of Medicine, carried out community consultations, focus groups, interviews, and surveys, in 14 neighbourhoods and in six languages. There were round table discussions with business, housing, social services, health, transport and education experts. This produced Toward an Age-friendly City: A Findings Report (Goldman et al. 2016). [1]

The Age-Friendly New York City Commission was set up and an action plan drafted. The guiding principles are well worth noting:

  • An ageing population is an opportunity, not a crisis;
  • Older people must be involved in all phases of problem identification and resolution;
  • Initiatives should address the full diversity of the older population – their functional capacity, economic resources, age, gender and ethnicity;
  • Initiatives should be grounded in evidence;
  • All sectors (public and private) must be engaged in developing solutions to eliminate barriers to older adults’ full participation in society.

Here are examples of some practical measures to assist active ageing in New York City.

  • Streets – Older people reported significant barriers to pedestrian safety including inadequate street crossing times, poorly maintained sidewalks and lack of seating. One person said, “I age every time I have to cross the street.” The NYC Department of Transportation, through its Safe Streets for Seniors Program evaluates conditions in areas with high rates of senior pedestrian fatalities or injuries and implements mitigation measures. These include extending pedestrian crossing times, constructing pedestrian safety islands, widening curbs and medians, narrowing roadways, and installing new stop controls and signals. These changes have made streets safer for all New Yorkers.
  • Walkability – The Department of Transportation is installing 1,500 benches around the city to improve walkability. These are particularly near senior centres and housing; hospitals and health centres; shopping districts and municipal facilities, such as public libraries. Individuals and communities can request a bench in a specific location. Older people report having made new social ties with people who frequent the same benches at the same times.
  • Bus Shelters – The Department of Transportation replaced almost all pre-existing bus shelters and installed 4,000 additional ones at locations identified by older people, with seating and transparent walls. These shelters are paid for by advertisements on their sides. As a result older people can feel safe and independent walking their streets and going about their daily lives. It also serves to decrease social isolation as people get out more.
  • Transport – Through a partnership with the Department of Education, school buses can be used by senior centres to transport older people on shopping trips when buses are not needed for children.
  • Recreation – When discussing recreational opportunities, older people said they had not used public pools in decades because they felt uncomfortable among children and teenagers. The Department of Parks and Recreation piloted senior-only swim hours at one public pool, known as “Senior Splash.” The programme was so popular that it was expanded to 16 pools throughout the City and water aerobics instruction was added. An evaluation of this programme indicated that older people who participated in water aerobics had greater lower body strength and flexibility than those who did not.
  • Business – The Age-Friendly Local Business Pilot Project was launched in 2011. Businesses were approached, provided with a resource guide, and encouraged to carry out simple enhancements, such as offering chairs for older people. They were also given window decals so that older adults would know which businesses were age-friendly. A small study suggested that participating businesses had higher average cash receipts than similar non-participating businesses.
  • Professions – Age-Friendly New York City has also approached professional associations to encourage them to think about their work in new ways and to see population ageing as an opportunity for professional growth. Professions approached included architecture and design, law, pharmacy, library sciences, and urban planning. “Best Practices” brochures, were created in collaboration with professional associations and disseminated to members.

All great ideas – don’t you think?  What about it NZ?

[1] Information comes from Goldman, L., Owusu, S., Smith, C., Martens, D. and Lynch, M. (2016) Age-Friendly New York City: A Case Study. Chapter 9, pages 171-190 in Moulaert, T. and Garon, S.(Editors) (2016) Age-Friendly Cities and Communities in International Comparison: Political Lessons, Scientific Avenues, and Democratic Issues. Springer International Publishing, Switzerland.

About Age Concern New Zealand 'on research'

At the heart of everything Age Concern does is a passion to see older people experience well-being, respect, dignity, and to be included and valued. We support, inform and advise older people on issues such as access to health care, transport, housing, financial entitlements, and social opportunities. We also work to combat real problems in our society, like elder abuse and neglect, chronic loneliness and social isolation. We provide specialist services with trained and qualified professionals able to give expert advice and assistance. Age Concern is a charity and relies on the support of volunteers and public donations to do much of the work we do. To help us help older people, please consider making a donation of your time or money. To see how, visit
This entry was posted in Housing and community environment. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Age friendliness in action – practical assistance for older people in New York City

  1. Robyn Barry says:

    Thanks Judith. Its refreshing to read about what can ensue with a change of attitude and positive guiding principles.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s