City, civic leaders hope initiative makes Columbus age-friendly

 The Columbus Dispatch By Rita Price

Columbus, a city better known for its youthfulness, wants to embrace its graying side, too.

Community officials and civic leaders announced an initiative today aimed at making sure older adults have the opportunities they need to stay in their homes and neighborhoods, and to enjoy safe and active lifestyles.

Information gathered — through research, field work and outreach — will then be used to create a three-year, citywide plan of action, organizers said.

"This isn't just important to our past and our present, but to our future," Mayor Andrew J. Ginther said during the announcement at City Hall. "The strength of our neighborhoods depends on the strength of our residents."

Although Columbus is still comparatively young, central Ohio's 65-and-older population is expected to double in the next 35 years.

A recent local study — insight2050 — also found that most of the area's growth in coming decades will be rooted in larger numbers of aging baby boomers (nearly 45 percent) and people younger than 35 (probably more than 25 percent). That's a big shift from 1990 to 2010, when residents in their middle years, 35 to 64 years old, accounted for nearly 80 percent of the region's growth.

The Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission is a partner with the city on the project, with an advisory council led by Councilman Michael Stinziano and former council member Fran Ryan, the city's senior advocate. "Age-Friendly" city designations and criteria are outlined by AARP and the World Health Organization.

"It's a big deal," William Murdock, executive director of MORPC, said of the work ahead. "It's going to be a very comprehensive plan."

The plan is city-based but will be developed "in the context of central Ohio," he said, with recommendations applicable to other communities in the region.

Stinziano said participants at a recent forum noted that the city often talks about attracting and retaining young talent, but wanted to know, "What's out there for older residents?"

He said officials want to hear from older residents as the project works to identify areas where the city needs to improve.

Ryan, 82, said the good news is that developing a more age-friendly city benefits all age groups. Most everyone wants communities that are more walkable, with affordable housing options and diverse social and recreational opportunities.

"What's good for young people is good for seniors," she said. "You want a city for all ages."

The project is supported and funded by the Osteopathic Heritage Foundation; the Central Ohio Area Agency on Aging; the Franklin County Office on Aging; the Columbus Foundation; National Church Residences and AARP Ohio.