Athletic young men jogging shirtless in the sun up and down Santa Monica Boulevard. People at local gyms and studios trying to master the latest fitness trend. Partiers strolling from club to club at night on the Strip and in Boystown or lining up to gain entry to Laurel Hardware. That’s a popular vision of West Hollywood.
But there’s another. The fifty-something woman slowly navigating her electric wheelchair up the incline on North Sweetzer Avenue. The four men in their eighties playing chess in Plummer Park and joking with one another in Russian. The partially blind woman with her dog’s leash in one hand and her walking cane in the other waiting for someone to open the door for her at Starbucks.
In West Hollywood, a city of 34,399 people as of the 2010 U.S. Census, 5,125 of residents are ages 65 to 79. Those who are 80 and older number 1,904. And while West Hollywood and its residents continue to age, the question is whether its residents can age in place. Consider that 80% of us are renters and the majority of the city’s residential buildings were built 30 or more years ago, well before government accessibility standards were in place, and many need repairs. While rated one of the most walkable cities in California, many in West Hollywood still depend on motor transportation to get access to basic services, not an option if you’re visually impaired.
Those and other factors are behind an effort by the City of West Hollywood to develop a five-year plan to let its residents “age in place,” the term of art for remaining in one’s own home while growing older rather than moving to a senior center or assisted living facility.
This article is the first in a series that describes each of the eight elements of the proposed aging in place strategy. The strategic plan continues to be reviewed by various city boards and commissions and other groups for feedback.
The project, called “Aging in Place / Aging in Community,” is being shepherded by Elizabeth Savage, director of the city’s Department of Human Services and Rent Stabilization. Already Savage, who has been working with various other city departments and divisions as well as consultants and local residents, is getting the plan in front of residents and decision-makers to get their feedback. The overall vision is stated in a draft of the plan. “West Hollywood is a caring and supportive city where aging is embraced. Therefore, it has the vision that adults as they age are supported in ways that help them to remain in their homes. The city, as an age-friendly community, is the place where older adults safely age with health and dignity.”
Savage said the idea of an aging in place effort has come from a number of directions. There are the conversations in recent years about setting up a system that would allow seniors on second floors of building to have first rights to rent vacant units on the more easily accessible first floor. Could a resident of a multi-bedroom apartment who no longer is living with children or a spouse swap it for a one-bedroom apartment and still remain under his or her former rent stabilization protection? In 2010, Barbara Meltzer, a public relations and marketing consultant, worked with Lindsey Horvath, then a city council member and now mayor, and Victor Regnier, a USC professor of architecture and gerontology, to stage a symposium called “Pathways to Positive Aging” at Plummer Park. With the conversation growing, in 2014 the City Council asked city staffers to develop an aging in place strategy.
The strategy that has been developed is organized around eight areas that the World Health Organization has identified as having an influence on the health and well being of older adults. They include open space and buildings, transportation, respect and inclusion, housing, communications and information, civic participation and employment, health and community and community services and social participation. Goals of the first area are as outlined below. Succeeding articles will explain the other goals.
OPEN SPACE & BUILDINGS
The draft of the plan notes that WeHo already is described as a “small town surrounded by the big city” and is noted for its walkability and community spaces such as the library and the community center. Going forward, the plan proposes additional measures to create a safe and accessible places for other residents to gather.
Priority 1 Goals:
- Use the Neighborhood Watch model to increase involvement of neighbors with one another. Neighborhood Watch is a public safety effort in which volunteers in different neighborhoods work together to keep an eye out for possible crimes and make sure the Sheriff’s Station is notified.
- Encourage the Sheriff’s station to establish a permanent bicycle team in West Hollywood. Currently in WeHo, the 16th most densely populated city in the nation, sheriff’s deputies for the most part patrol in cars, a practice more typical in less densely populated areas. That practice increasingly is giving way in other cities to foot patrols or bicycle patrols that increase police engagement with local residents.
- Increase lighting in public areas and embed lighting on city streets.
Priority 2 Goals:
- Redesign the Plummer Park senior lounge as a space where older adults can share art and culture as well as meet to talk and play cards.
- Encourage the development of creative open and green spaces where older residents can gather. These might include spaces on rooftops or in alleyways.
- Partner with local businesses to use existing space as gathering spaces. Some local businesses — independent coffee shops, businesses that operate during untraditional hours, businesses with patios — may be willing to let older adults gather there.
- Install places to sit in public areas and beautify the crosswalks and sidewalks that are important transportation passageways for older adults on foot.
Priority 3: Goals
- Improve public access to city facilities by installing where necessary ramps, wider entrances, more readable signs, easier seating.
- Encourage local businesses to also improve accessibility with easier to navigate entrances and lighting.
- Improve the accessibility parking spaces for people who can’t walk easily. Many parallel parking spaces in lots in the city have such little room between them that it is difficult for anyone to get out of the driver’s seat, much less a person who must get out with a walker.
- Improve the visibility of walking paths to accommodate scooters and walkers.
Tomorrow: Transportation and Respect and Inclusion