Adios, Del Boca Vista! NYC "Kinder and Gentler" for Retirees
New York has added four seconds to the time pedestrians are given to cross intersections as part of an effort to make the city more friendly to the elderly. Photo via NYTimes.

New York has added four seconds to the time pedestrians are given to cross intersections as part of an effort to make the city more friendly to the elderly. Photo via the New York Times.

Maybe it’s time for senior Seinfelds to come back from the Del Boca Vista retirement community. In an effort to keep senior citizens — and their pocketbooks — in New York, the city is working to make its streets safer for the elderly.

At 400 intersections around New York City, pedestrians now have an extra four seconds to cross the road. This brings the total crossing time to 29 seconds — still pretty low, but an improvement. And today, the New York Times reported that the city is poised to create two “aging-improvement” districts, which will be revamped to become safer and more accessible for retirees.

Explaining the incentives behind the initiative, Linda I. Gibbs, New York’s deputy mayor for health and human services, told the New York Times:  “New York has become a safer city, and we have such richness of parks and culture that we’re becoming a senior retirement destination.  They come not only with their minds and their bodies; they come with their pocketbooks.”

New York’s Department of City Planning predicts that by 2030, there will be as many elderly people as schoolchildren in NYC — 15 percent of the city’s population, each — as compared to 1950, when there were twice as many schoolchildren as retirees. This means that in 2030 there will be 1.35 million New Yorkers age 65 and over, a 44 percent increase from 2000.


The New York Academy of Medicine adopted the idea of making the city more “age friendly” from the World Health Organization in 2007, and earned funding and political backing from the City Council and the Bloomberg administration.

In the meantime, the academy has held over thirty town hall meetings and focus groups with thousands of elderly people around the city. They’re now focusing specifically on elderly residents in East Harlem and the Upper West Side, where the aging-improvement districts are set to be piloted.

They say what people want most is “to live in a neighborly place where it is safe to cross the street and where the corner drugstore will give them a drink of water and let them use the bathroom.”  They want good drainage in the streets, since it’s “hard to jump over puddles with walkers and wheelchairs.”

The city is working to become more walkable for all. Students at New York University’s Wagner School of Public Service are developing a walking survey that will rate the city’s age-friendliness by things like the number of cracked sidewalks and raised curbs.

Extra benches are also an amenity that aging-improvement districts should get more of.

While it’s unclear exactly how the districts will be managed, planners foresee them like a public-private partnership, encouraging businesses to voluntarily make themselves more accessible.

The districts will be run by the academy, initially, but later they’ll be handed over to community groups, and expanded to other neighborhoods.

Still, though the news is encouraging, it comes on the heels of transit service cuts in the city that have particularly affected senior citizens.

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