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Columbus Is Age-Friendly, But Older Residents Have Concerns

Feb 1, 2017

The Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission expects central Ohio’s 65 and older population to double over the next three decades.

Last year, MORPC established Age-Friendly Columbus to evaluate how older residents view the city’s livability.  The group has released the findings of a year-long study. Mike Foley has details.

Officials involved with the Age-Friendly Columbus initiative say more than a thousand older residents from nearly all parts of the city completed either a comprehensive or abbreviated version of the survey. Respondents ranged in age from 50 to 100, but most (about 46 percent) are between 60 and 74 years old. The survey had 8 focus areas including housing, transportation and safety. Positives identified in the survey included the number of options for long-term services and a strong network of neighborhood groups. But older residents also noted some gaps when it comes to transportation, according to MORPC Executive Director William Murdock.

“The study actually affirmed what we expected, that older adults drive themselves to where they need to go. But when we dug a little bit deeper, it was really striking because there’s big disparities in the mobility options especially as people’s preferences change and their abilities change.  Simply put, the study shows that there aren’t enough mobility options for those that need them that are safe, convenient and affordable. At MORPC, this is really motivating to us to do more for people to have options to where they need to go but also to where they want to go. And at the neighborhood level we know this starts with something simple which is connected and complete sidewalks, which are essential to encouraging and enabling residents of any age to walk, to bike and use public transportation.”

Emily Campbell with the Center for Community Solutions says residents rated the city as a more favorable place to live than their own neighborhood as they age, but most residents want to remain in their homes and current communities. With studies showing that most falls among older adults happen inside homes, the study also addressed access to safety modifications.  

“Only 20 percent of older Columbus residents reported having access to age-friendly home modifications such as no-step entry, wider doorways, first-floor bedroom and bathrooms and grab-bars in their bathrooms. And we had a number of respondents that said they weren’t sure if they had access to those things. This is one of the areas we saw that people are satisfied with how they’re doing now but may not be thinking about the future and those things that will enable them to. So certainly something that stood out to us when we looked in that housing area was that lack of people making those home modifications or considered doing them.”

At the unveiling of the results, residents also took an opportunity to address current safety concerns. 75-year-old Daniel Sinclair lives in Jaycee Arms along East Main Street.

“Many of our citizens have to cross Main Street to get to a COTA bus, which is across the street to get to that bus stop. Main Street is a one way street, so they have to cross four lanes of traffic to get there. We’ve been asking the city to put us up a crosswalk or something to provide safety for our senior citizens, that’s what we’re all about.”

“I live in the same building as this gentleman does. I’m Roger Skaggs, permanently disabled. I’ve been trying to contact the city for two years about the same situation at the crosswalk.”

They lucked out as Columbus officials including Mayor Andy Ginther were on hand. Ginther responded to Sinclair’s question.

“We have done this in other places around the city, unfortunately sometimes in response to tragic incidents in schools and in growing parts of the city where there weren’t crosswalks. It’s something that we’re eager to do. We want folks to be able to get around their neighborhood and to other neighborhoods by means other than just cars. So that means giving people safe passage by foot and accessing the bus system and other modes of transportation, so we’d be happy to talk to you about it.”

Sinclair says he’ll feel better when the paint hits the streets.

“We’re used to folks giving us nice speeches and respectfully listening to us, but we have very long memories and we remember what people do, not what they say”

Age-Friendly officials say the initiative will continue with more neighborhood focus groups to make sure all ideas are included, and that strategies and improvements are made over the next two years. Their mission - plan with older adults, rather than for them.