Improving Senior Living in NYC

The audience was young and old, but all interested in the myriad of ways that we can improve the ability of seniors living in NYC to age in-place. “Age-Friendly Strategies for NYC” was a continuation of the AIANY Design for Aging Committee’s successful one-day charrette “Booming Boroughs,” which delved into NYC residential environments. The panel explored two additional aspects of aging in place: use of technology and community activism. All three panelists are involved with the Age-Friendly NYC initiative of the NY Academy of Medicine, which was recently recognized by the International Federation on Aging as the Best Existing Age-Friendly Cities and Communities Innovation in the world. All three speakers shared their vision for initiatives to positively impact the lives of older adults.

The first speaker, David Dring, executive director of Selfhelp Innovations for the Manhattan-based nonprofit Selfhelp Community Services, offered an overview of the need for assistance to low-income seniors and how it benefits society. In addition to providing housing and social services to more than 20,000 NYC residents, the organization owns 1,300 independent living residential units in Queens. Residents have access to innovative technologies incorporated into the common areas of the building, and can opt for additional monitoring in their apartments. Dring illustrated the savings that such strategies can offer over medical options. One particularly successful program he has developed for home-bound seniors is called the Virtual Senior Center. A touch-screen monitor provides a connection to activities being held at one of Selfhelp’s community centers. The program has grown from a test of 20 users to more than 200 current users, stemming social isolation and depression among home-bound residents.

Abby Stokes, gave an engaging summary of her years teaching seniors to use computers. Author of Is This Thing On? A Computer Handbook for Late Bloomers, Technophobes, and the Kicking & Screaming, she described demystifying computers for her clients. She has dubs her students “digital immigrants” because they were born before a keyboard and a mouse were in every young hand. Since teaching her mother 20 years ago to navigate the Internet, she has developed strategies for helping seniors develop confidence in computers and to use technology to build connections with their young relatives. She believes curiosity leads people to try new skills, and seniors are no different from others in that regard. Examples of her favorite websites for engaging with the outside world:,,, and SeniorPlanet. org. Stokes described the recently opened Senior Planet Digital Community Center on West 25th Street, the nation’s first tech-themed center for older adults.

Tamecca Tillard, managing director of the Coalition for the Improvement of Bedford Stuyvesant (CIBS), shifted the focus to community involvement in helping make NYC a great place to grow old. She described her organization’s efforts to benefit local residents thru education and access. CIBS is an association of 25 groups whose primary focus is maintaining and enhancing an equitable, healthy, and sustainable community, and providing economic and social betterment for BedStuy residents. It is one of three pilot city communities to be designated as an Aging Improvement District (AID) by the NY Academy of Medicine. Planning and implementation for the AID began with 245 interviews and 15 “community conversations,” which led to identification of key priorities. Programs, such as Banking with Confidence training that teaches online banking safety, were developed. The BedStuy BID installed 125 new benches along the Fulton Street shopping corridor, as well as additional benches and bus shelters to improve the public way. Other ideas led to senior-only hours at the local pool and neighborhood gardening programs that engage grandchildren and parents in growing, cooking, and eating fresh foods together.

All three panelists shared their commitment to helping seniors continue to live happily in our city, and encouraged the audience to seek out opportunities to get involved.

The lecture was hosted by the AIANY Design for Aging Committee. Lead sponsors were Rose Associates and Thornburg Foundation. The opening reception for the “Booming Boroughs” exhibit at the Center for Architecture will be 01.09.14.

Susan Wright, AIA, LEED AP, is a principal at IBI Group – Gruzen Samton Architects.

Event: Age-Friendly Strategies for NYC
Location: Center for Architecture, 10.17.13
Speakers: Abby Stokes, Author, Is This Thing On?; David Dring, Executive Director, Selfhelp Innovations; Tamecca Tillard, Managing Director, CIBS; Susan Wright, AIA, LEED AP, Principal, IBI Group – Gruzen Samton Architects (moderator)
Organizers: AIANY Design for Aging Committee
Sponsors: Rose Associates, Inc., Thornburg Foundation (Lead Sponsors), Ethelind Coblin Architect (Sponsor), Capsys Corporation (Supporter), AARP New York, James Hardie Building Products, SKA Marin (Best Friends), Hamlin Ventures, Hollwich Kushner, NYS Builders Association Research & Education Foundation, OMNI Architects (Friends)