Next city government must make New York safer for its older residents


Older New Yorkers (Photo: Michael Appleton / Mayoral Photography Office)

As we age, few things are more essential than feeling safe in our neighborhoods.

For seniors, public safety goes beyond fighting crime; it is about maintaining independence and a quality of life and dignity. But currently, many neighborhoods in New York City fail to create an age-friendly environment where the elderly can thrive. There is work to be done, but thankfully our city is going through a time of unprecedented change that represents our best opportunity to make New York City a safer, fairer place to grow old.

From adopting senior-friendly design principles to supporting neighborhood services as we age, the new mayor’s administration and city council will have the opportunity to reinvent a New York City for all ages. This is why we are proud to support the overall political program published by LiveOn NY and the Brookdale Center for Healthy Aging at Hunter College, which offers fresh and innovative ideas on how the next city government can go beyond the police to make all neighborhoods safe and secure places for to get old.

For older New Yorkers, public safety includes community services that provide a lifeline to basic services such as nutrition and health management support. These human services provided by local nonprofits like ours have kept older New Yorkers safe throughout the pandemic, making thousands of immunization appointments, delivering nutritious meals, and promoting socialization. Unfortunately, for too long, the city has failed to invest significantly in aging services as well as the human service sector in general. It’s time for the city to truly support and fully fund the organizations and workers who continue to come forward every day to support older New Yorkers.

Beyond increasing support for direct services, a safer city also requires significant work to ensure that all New Yorkers have a safe place to feel at home. Today’s tight rental market, older housing stock and a lack of affordable housing make it difficult for older New Yorkers, especially those on fixed incomes, to stay housed while making ends meet. We will need the next municipal government to double its efforts to increase the production of affordable senior housing with services, as well as to support housing programs that can meet the changing needs of older residents.

Public safety also means staying safe from falls, which are the fifth leading cause of death in people aged 65 and over. Pedestrian streets with equitably located resources and accessible transit options all give seniors the freedom to engage and contribute to surrounding communities. Fall prevention begins with investing in street lighting and sidewalk maintenance to eliminate trip hazards such as cracks, garbage and snow, and to make crossing areas safe for pedestrians. Tragically, older New Yorkers are struck and killed by vehicles in almost three times the rate of young people. Let’s commit to creating safer areas for New Yorkers by prioritizing walking and expanding the city’s Vision Zero program.

To build a city for all New Yorkers, our modes of transportation must adapt to the needs of people with different levels of physical ability. Currently, only one in four metro stations has key accessibility features. Whether you are a person with limited mobility or a parent with a stroller, accessibility features like elevators and ramps are essential not only for preventing falls, but also for unlocking all that New York has to offer. It’s time for the state and the city to work together to make our metro system more accessible.

For those who rely on Access-a-Ride, there are also some ready-made improvements to be made. Namely, it is essential for the city to extend its pilot program for paratransit by email across the five boroughs.

Of course, while housing, nutrition, services and an age-friendly community are essential to ensuring that New Yorkers can age safely, preventing crime against the elderly will remain essential. With the recent attacks on Asian Americans, we clearly see that too often violent crimes are committed against the elderly and marginalized populations in particular. We, as a city, must unite to fight hatred and discrimination in all its forms. From funding local nonprofits to build community to strengthening proven mental health programs, we believe a globally safe city is possible.

New Yorkers are counting on the next city administration and the next city council to make our neighborhoods better and safer places to age. Getting older should create momentum in our lives, rather than slowing us down. It’s time to invest in the future of aging in our city. Community social service organizations like ours, with decades of experience working with seniors, stand ready to help the new municipal government make the right investments for our communities.

Donna Atmore-Dolly is executive director of Allen’s nonprofit community programs. Anderson Torres, PhD, LCSW-R, is President and CEO of RAIN TOTAL CARE.

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