Evanston starts initiative to make city age-friendly

Julian Gerez, Assistant City Editor

Though more than 8,000 Northwestern students occupy Evanston during the school year, the city is preparing a project to make Evanston a better place to grow older in response to changing demographic trends.

While the total population of the city increased by less than 1 percent between 2000 and 2010, the number of people over the age of 65 increased by more than 13 percent, according to the United States Census Bureau. Additionally, the median age has increased from 32.5 to 34.3 in that same time period. 

In response, Evanston is starting an age-friendly initiative as part of the World Health Organization’s program to create a global network of age-friendly cities that “foster the exchange of experience and mutual learning between cities and communities worldwide,” according to the WHO website.

However, Christina Ferraro, assistant director for Evanston community services, said making the city age-friendly helps all of the residents of the city, not just the older ones. She said Evanston will become a “good place to grow up and grow old.”

“Any changes will be for all ages and will benefit an 8-year-old as well as an 80-year-old,” Ferraro said. “It really is for the entire community.”

The initiative is being generated through community action as well. Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl established and appointed a nine-member task force January to develop the project, which includes overseeing a three-year city-wide action plan. Members of the task force include representatives from the Human Relations Commission, the Mental Health Board and the Commission on Aging. 

Ferraro said making an age-friendly city includes assessing outdoor spaces, buildings, transportation, health services and civic participation.

Susan Cherco, the chairperson for the task force, said the plan has been received positively.   

“We’re not there to tell residents what makes Evanston age-friendly,” Cherco said. “Our charge is to have enough conversations with residents, including residents who are normally hard to reach and not traditionally participants, to really reach them and develop a plan based on the input from the actual community.”

Cherco said this bottom-up approach includes surveys, focus groups and round table discussions.

The initiative started unofficially in October with community meetings to inform residents of the project which more than 200 residents attended. It will launch officially on May 23 with an open meeting at the McGaw YMCA, 1000 Grove St. The data collection portion of the project to help arrange the action plan will last two years, so the plan itself could be implemented as early as 2016, Ferraro said.

“Other cities around the world have done this and had really good results,” Ferraro said. “Really it’s just adapting our structures and services to being accessible and inclusive to people of older ages.”

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