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Austin adopts plan to be more ‘Age-Friendly’

Friday, November 4, 2016 by Syeda Hasan

Austin has a reputation as a relatively young city, but within the next 25 years, one in five residents is expected to be 65 or older. To prepare for that change, City Council has approved a new plan to make it easier for older residents to “age in place.”

Austin’s Age-Friendly Action Plan outlines policies designed to accommodate a growing senior population over the next five years. District 5 Council Member Ann Kitchen sponsored the measure.

“It’s looking at the city through the lens of our older population,” Kitchen said.

That population is spread out across the city. The latest census data shows that Austin residents who are 65 and older are fairly evenly dispersed across all 10 Council districts. So what exactly does an age-friendly Austin look like?

“It should be a place that’s easy to get around,” Kitchen said. “It should be a place where it’s easier, or relatively easier, to live in your own home, and it should be a place where you can participate in community life and be included.”

The plan recommends improvements in eight specific areas, including employment opportunity, health services and continuing education. Kitchen said many of these senior-friendly policies fit with those already identified in Imagine Austin, a comprehensive plan for the city’s future. That plan includes projects such as developing parks and farmers markets that are more accessible, providing more affordable housing and – a big one – improving Austin’s transportation system.

“So, in transportation, that’s a matter of thinking about how we do sidewalks and street lighting, simple things like removing vegetation on sidewalks so it’s easier to walk, covered seating at bus stops, pedestrian-friendly crossings – things like that,” Kitchen said.

Recommendations in the plan are the culmination of years of research by the city’s Commission on Seniors, which gathered input from residents at a series of community events. Speaking at City Hall on Tuesday, Commissioner Sally Van Sickle said the growing senior population wants to be included and contribute to the community. The plan suggests that the city create more volunteer opportunities, along with an internship program for older adults.

“We want to be engaged in what is going on in the city. We want to be involved. We’ve got a lot of experience that we can bring to the table,” Van Sickle said. “And I will say that, while you always hear about the silver tsunami, it’s not a tsunami. It’s a reservoir that needs to be utilized.”

The plan doesn’t specify where funding for the improvements would come from, but it proposes partnerships with local organizations involved in the specified policy areas.

This story was produced as part of the Austin Monitor’s reporting partnership with KUT. Photo by LoneStarMike (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons. Photo by Paul Goyette made available through a Creative Commons license.

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