One of the most ambitious visions Laura Lamb, Episcopal Retirement Services’ new CEO, has articulated is her goal to eradicate ageism. That’s a tall order, but we believe it to be attainable.
To foster such change, the Tristate could become a bastion of age-inclusiveness that would serve as a model for other cities and regions.
Seniors need their communities to be accessible. They need to feel safe and secure in their environments. They need to know — and feel — that they’re well-supported not only by safety-net services, but by their family, friends, neighbors, local businesses, organizations and community leaders.
Age-friendly locales are important, in that they ensure everyone an equal opportunity to engage with their surroundings, participate in the community, and foster senses of belonging and well-being that, in turn, lead to higher wellness levels, longer lives and increased happiness for all.
How can we make Cincinnati a more age-friendly city — or as we prefer to call it, age-inclusive? Let’s explore three ways.
1. We can increase the availability of affordable senior housing.
In the Tristate, rents have been steadily rising for the better part of a decade. In fact, the rise in average rent in Cincinnati ranked as the fourth highest in the nation last year.
That’s great for landlords and developers. It’s challenging, but workable for most mid-career professionals. But it’s making thousands (if not tens of thousands) of our neighbors, including elderly people who often rely on fixed incomes, frighteningly vulnerable.
Rents are increasing here much faster than periodic Social Security cost of living adjustments can compensate for. At the same time, average fuel and food prices, which had been falling for several years, have recently started to tick up again. All of these price pressures have decreased financial security for middle class and low-income Cincinnati seniors.
To stabilize rent and ensure our elderly neighbors have safe, accessible, quality housing, we need to increase the number of senior-friendly and affordable apartments in the Tristate.
That’s exactly the premise driving the highly successful Affordable Living by ERS project. We’ve partnered with municipalities and developers alike to bring new, refurbished and renovated housing capacity into the market.
Many units, like those at Marlowe Court in College Hill, are part of mixed-use retail developments that are helping to house our elders and revitalize economically-challenged communities, without pushing our lower-income neighbors out.
2. We can improve our public transportation system.
Adults of working age in this area — especially those living in the suburbs or more rural areas — are mostly reliant on their personal vehicles to commute, get to doctor appointments, go shopping, visit family and friends, and get to whatever community events or entertainment venues they want to patronize.
For people who can drive and who can afford to own a car, a personal vehicle means complete freedom of navigation. As a result, some can’t imagine being reliant upon bus schedules, train schedules, or other modes of public transportation because they’d feel personally inconvenienced if they had to do so.
Because they can’t imagine themselves ever using it, some Tristaters are quick to discount the need for a multi-modal public transportation system. And it’s understandable that people who enjoy great freedoms would forget that seniors who no longer drive themselves suffer just as much as the working poor from lack of access to public transport.
But just because we don’t think we’ll use public transportation now, doesn’t mean that others don’t need it or that we ourselves won’t ever need to use it.
Yes, we do have buses. But they operate on a wheel-and-spoke layout that makes difficult access to the many communities, shopping areas and medical offices that lie between the main corridors.
Moreover, our bus system often requires multiple transfers to get from place to place. Simple trips you might take in your car can take hours for seniors who don’t drive, and who have no one immediately available to take them where they need to go.
Even walking can be a hazard in a hilly region in which some sidewalks and public stairways are neglected, broken, decaying and unpatrolled, and where some major thoroughfares have no accompanying sidewalk at all.
To make Cincinnati friendlier to our older citizens, we need a more robust, equitable transport system. And that may mean building and committing to subsidize a light rail system; funding additional safety-net van transport services; and improving the safety, security and reach of our sidewalk system.
3. We can ensure our seniors feel welcome and valued.
Whether it’s encouraging our older neighbors to engage with the community by creating senior-friendly events, generating more opportunities for senior volunteerism, or just spreading awareness of the need for more inclusion and civility in our society, there’s much we can do — for free! — to make Cincinnati a more age-inclusive city.
We can also stop thinking of seniors as wards. People are living longer and more vitally than ever before. True, many older persons have physical or mobility limitations; some, like those with early-stage dementia, may need a little extra help from younger folks.
But few seniors are completely helpless. And even those who can no longer physically care for themselves have something to contribute: their wisdom, their memories, their advice and their love. We often forget, in our rush to conduct our own business, to raise our kids, to pay off our mortgages and credit cards, that there are older people in Cincinnati who don’t feel relevant because they are unintentionally sidelined.
If we Tristaters make more concerted individual efforts to show seniors how much they really are valued, we can not only make our community age-inclusive, we can make it wiser and richer.