NYC Sets Groundwork for Improved Design for the Aging

Event: Design for the Aging in New York City
Location: Center for Architecture, 04.29.10
Speaker: Lilliam Barrios-Paoli — Commissioner, NYC Department for the Aging
Organizers: AIANY Design for Aging Committee

Commissioner Lilliam Barrios-Paoli of the NYC Department for the Aging (DFTA) spoke at the Center for Architecture on 04.29. The event was organized by the newly formed AIANY Chapter Design for Aging Committee. The committee aims to raise awareness about the needs of the elderly, specifically in an urban context, specifically in NYC. By making NYC’s physical environment reflect greater consideration for the elderly, the city will become a more age-friendly place for people of all ages to enjoy.

Barrios-Paoli emphasized that there is an immense need for age-friendly environments in the city. It’s projected that there will be more than 1.4 million people over age 65 living here by 2030. Currently, there are about 930,000 seniors in NYC, 30,000 of whom pay daily visits to the almost 300 DFTA Senior Centers now in operation. About 300,000 seniors live below the poverty level, so the daily meal served at the centers is often the most nutritious of their day.

DFTA’s environmental concerns focus mainly on public spaces, accessible and affordable transportation, and housing. Some of the details:

Public Spaces: Public spaces should be designed so they are not isolated, thus allowing seniors to view and perhaps participate in activities that involve other age groups. DFTA aims to assure that lighting is adequate, public restrooms are available, surfaces for walking are paved and not uneven, and that there are a sufficient number of benches. Conflicting priorities must be resolved, e.g. preferences by some to remove benches because of their possible use by the homeless.

Transportation: DFTA aims to require larger type on informational signs, so that seniors can easily read bus schedules, to be sure that street-light timing at crosswalks allows the elderly to cross without rushing, to modify left-turn controls for vehicles at intersections, and to increase the number of elevators and escalators for access to subway stations. Street crossings with medians that provide places to rest midway are highly desirable. The design of bicycle lanes can narrow intersections, but speeding bicycles frequently cause accidents, often with the elderly. Improved designs for taxicabs are needed for easy accessibility and to accommodate wheelchairs.

Housing: Housing that allows aging-in-place is especially important in NYC. Continuing Care Retirement Communities (CCRCs) and other assisted-living arrangements tend to be very expensive here. Naturally Occurring Retirement Communities (NORCs) encourage services to be brought to seniors where they live, and focus on preventive health-care needs. Since these activities can prevent fires and other accidents they tend to be positively viewed by landlords. But stairs and other barriers often restrict life-activities of the elderly, so guidelines to encourage aging-in-place need to have a greater influence on the design of multiple dwellings.

DFTA is working with other city agencies toward changing existing regulations that conflict with the needs of seniors, and the department is beginning to involve seniors in the planning process for future improvements. The Design for Aging Committee looks forward to a continuing relationship with DFTA by exploring possibilities and becoming an active advocate for highly functioning, age-friendly physical environments throughout the city.

The Design For Aging Committee meets once a month. At our First meeting since Commissioner Barrios-Paoli’s talk, stimulated by her suggestions, we began to enthusiastically generate many good ideas for future exploration /implementation. If you’d like to join us to further develop and pursue these goals, contact Jerry Maltz.