Evanston updates residents on accessibility initiative for aging population

Stephanie Kelly, Reporter

City staff and residents gathered Saturday to discuss an initiative to improve the aging Evanston population’s access to transportation, affordable housing and other services.

During the meeting at the Levy Senior Center, 300 Dodge Ave., the Age Friendly Evanston! task force and city staff reviewed areas that need the most improvement and described future plans for the initiative.

“The priority of working across departments … to help make Evanston a great community for everyone to work, live, play, grow up and grow old has been a priority for the city for a very, very long time,” said Catherine Hurley, the city’s sustainable programs coordinator.

City staff started investigating proactive ways to make Evanston more age friendly when they realized that by 2030 about a quarter of Evanston’s population would be over the age of 60, said Christina Ferraro, the city’s assistant director of community services. From there, the city joined the World Health Organization’s network of age-friendly cities to exchange ideas with other cities about how to become more age friendly.

The initiative adopted a bottom-up approach to accommodate residents’ concerns, said Susan Cherco, who chairs the task force. In May, the task force will give out its second citywide survey to gain more information from residents.

The task force plans to send an action plan to the WHO by December 2016. The task force hopes to finish the plan by spring 2016 so that it can be presented to the City Council, Cherco said.

Task force members have begun to identify specific issues that continue to resurface, including lack of transportation, failure in communication to residents and a deficiency in affordable housing, Cherco said.

Residents in the audience of about 50 commented extensively about affordable housing when they were encouraged to participate in discussion at the end of the meeting. One audience member told a story about how she will have to move elsewhere because she can no longer afford to live in Evanston.

“Clearly housing is a major concern, and we are working on housing,” Cherco told The Daily. “There are a lot of ongoing efforts for affordable housing, it’s just also a difficult problem to address.”

In addition to affordable housing, the issue of a rental boom — more people renting in the city due to new apartment complexes — also arose. Community members expressed concern that the increase in residents would create more traffic in the city, making it more difficult for elderly citizens to get around safely.

Other concerns included installing more walk buttons at certain crosswalks in the city to aid those who are visually impaired and improving the ways in which people can access hospitals and health centers.

Cherco said she thought the meeting went well.

“We want to hear from the community,” she told The Daily. “It’s important for people to express their frustrations.”

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