Evanston is getting a new look – not a facelift but an examination of the City’s plans through the lens of aging. Christina Ferraro, assistant director of the City’s Community Services Department, a division of the PRCS, gave an overview of “Age-Friendly Evanston” on May 23 at the McGaw Y.

The City of Evanston has partnered with the World Health Organization’s (WHO’s) Age-Friendly Cities Initiative, to create more livable communities for residents of all ages. According to the WHO website the “WHO Global Network of Age-friendly Cities and Communities (GNAFCC) was established to foster the exchange of experience and mutual learning between cities and communities worldwide. Any city or community that is committed to creating inclusive and accessible urban environments to benefit their ageing populations is welcome to join. … What all members of the Network do have in common is the desire and commitment to create physical and social urban environments that promote healthy and active ageing and a good quality of life for their older residents.” (www.who.int/aging/age_friendly_cities)

Ms. Ferraro said WHO has identified eight aspects of city life to evaluate the age-friendliness of cities: outdoor spaces and buildings, transportation, housing, social participation, respect and social inclusion, civic participation and employment, communication and information, and community support and health services.

In a recent survey, senior citizens in Evanston ranked the eight WHO aspects of an age-friendly community. In order, the top five are housing, transportation, community and health services, civic participation and employment, and social participation.  

Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl has appointed nine residents, all seniors, to the Age-Friendly Evanston Task Force: Helen Gagel, transportation; Jo-Ann Cromer, social participation; Dorothy Strong, respect and social inclusion; Wayne Heimbach, housing; Susan Canter, outdoor spaces and buildings; Martha Holmes, communication and information; John Barfield, community and health services; Isidro Lucas, civic participation and employment; and Susan Cherco, chair.

The task force will “analyze the community’s physical environment, what affects our mental and social well-being, as well as community services and health services,” Ms. Ferraro said. Members of the task force “will ask older residents to describe the advantages and barriers they experience in these eight areas [identified by WHO] … and will develop a realistic plan that will work for the Evanston community.”

The goal of the WHO global network is to help older residents remain in their communities, and the local goal is similar, “We want to encourage and promote improvement that will make us age-friendly and encourage everyone to remain in Evanston,” said Ms. Ferraro.

The “silver tsunami,” the newest moniker for the aging baby-boomer generation, is “the largest generation of older people in our country’s history,” Ms. Ferraro said, adding that life-expectancies are increasing and birth-rates decreasing. We need to think creatively about how best to support people to a very old age.”

According to the 2010 census, 18% of Evanston’s population was in the 50-64 range, and 8% in the 65-79 range. About 13% fell into the 40-49 age group.

“Age-friendly” relates to more than just senior citizens, Ms. Ferraro said. “A countdown-timer [for pedestrians] at an intersection can affect those with walkers or in wheelchairs but it also affects those pushing strollers or holding a toddler’s hand. … A community that is truly livable for an 80-year-old is also livable for an 8-year-old and everyone in between,” she added.

An age-friendly community has a business/economic value, plans for short-term and long-term needs and fosters a connectedness to home, family and community, said Ms. Ferraro.

Information about Age-Friendly Evanston will be posted on the City’s website, cityofevanston.org. The telephone number is 847-448-8251; the email address is aging@cityofevanston.org.

Mary Gavin

Mary Gavin is the founder of the Evanston RoundTable. After 23 years as its publisher and manager, she helped transition the RoundTable to nonprofit status in 2021. She continues to write, edit, mentor...