The City Council might soon be considering ways to make Honolulu an “age-friendly city” after five years of community-driven planning.
The Honolulu Age-Friendly City Action Plan is a brainchild of volunteers from the community, academia, the nonprofit and for-profit sectors, and city officials.
Suggestions in the plan include designing roads and crosswalks that are safer for pedestrians and bicyclists, increasing affordable housing, promoting intergenerational engagement, offering older people employment opportunities, and ensuring everyone has access to health services.
Bill 54, which passed its first reading by the council’s Parks, Community and Customer Services Committee on July 24, doesn’t offer specifics about what an age-friendly city program should include, but it does indicate that city departments would be required to incorporate age-friendly practices into all programs, services, facilities and projects.
“Things change, administrations change, and what this does is it sets up a permanent structure to continue to work towards an age-friendly Honolulu that will benefit everyone,” said Barbara Kim Stanton, state director of AARP Hawaii.
The effort to make Honolulu age-friendly, defined in the bill as an “inclusive urban or suburban environment that encourages active and healthy aging,” began in 2013 when Honolulu joined the World Health Organization’s Global Network of Age-Friendly Cities and Communities and became one of 282 American cities within the AARP’s National Network of Age-Friendly States and Communities.
A 90-member Citizens Advisory Committee worked on creating the action plan with the help of the University of Hawaii Center on Aging until it was completed in 2015 and transitioned into a three-year implementation phase.
The recommendations proposed in the action plan address six domains identified by the World Health Organization: outdoor spaces and buildings, transportation, housing, communication and social involvement, civic participation and employment, and community support and health services.
Frank Streed, co-chair of the Implementation Committee and a member of the transportation domain work group, said that one effort he’s proud of and hopes will continue is the development of a mobile app to improve pedestrian safety at crosswalks.
Through the app, pedestrians would be able to take photos of potentially hazardous crosswalks — such as an uplifted sidewalk or a signal that doesn’t allow enough time to cross — and report the issue directly to the city. Streed and the transportation work group hope that the app will be released for public use by the end of this year.
According to the action plan, Hawaii has the highest pedestrian fatality rate in nation for people 60 and older.
Christy Nishita, Age-Friendly Honolulu’s consultant from the UH Center on Aging, highlighted another program called Dementia Friends Hawaii. It educates community members about the effects of dementia or Alzheimer’s and helps them spot strangers who might need help because of dementia.
Nishita said Dementia Friends has already made presentations at a bank, a high school, and to senior volunteer groups. She hopes to soon be able to target emergency first responders.
The Implementation Committee is also looking to launch an age-friendly business initiative that would train workers in the retail, hotel and travel industries to better serve senior citizens and people with disabilities. The initiative would encourage employees to be more patient and implement practical solutions like signs with larger print.
“We are trying to emphasize in our community the value and the potential contributions that older adults can bring, their wisdom, their assets, their skills,” said Nishita, whose background is in gerontology. “That they can still be vital members of our community.”
The Age-Friendly Honolulu website states that Hawaii has the fastest-growing population of citizens 65 years and older in the country. It’s estimated that within a 30-year period ending in 2040, this age group in Hawaii will increase by 104 percent.
Streed said he’s not sure what will become of the Implementation Committee if the bill becomes law, since the responsibilities once shouldered by community members will be placed solely on the city. But he predicts that during the transition, the Implementation Committee may turn into an advisory committee, which will offer assistance and act as a liaison between the city and the private sector.
While the committee’s fate is unknown, Streed thinks that establishing a formal city program is the best way to ensure that Honolulu will continue its effort to be age-friendly.
As the bill progresses through the City Council, more light may be shed on the city’s plans for executing the program. It’s up for second reading and a public hearing Aug. 15, when the council will most likely make additional changes.
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