City leaders are asking the World Health Organization to name Salem an “age-friendly city,” a largely symbolic designation that reaps benefits for the city’s oldest residents through the process of earning the title.
The World Health Organization recently created a global network of age-friendly cities and communities “to foster the exchange of experience and mutual learning between cities and communities worldwide.”
Earning the declaration doesn’t translate into grant opportunities, tax credits or other financial perks.
Instead, it’s a badge of honor — a statement of the quality of life in the city for the elderly, according to Patricia Zaido, who is co-chairing the working group leading the process with Christine Sullivan, with Beverly resident and City Councilor Jason Silva serving as a liaison to the mayor’s office.
Salem would get “the perception and psychological impact that says, ‘Wow. We’ve been certified by the WHO. We’re really moving in the right direction,’” Zaido said. “Everybody is doing a good job, but we need to centralize it.”
There are currently 38 communities in the United States with the WHO age-friendly designation, according to Council On Aging Director Rosalía Velázquez.
The group has already held two listening sessions, where they discussed Salem’s capacity to support elderly residents, according to Zaido.
A lot of the problems facing senior life in the city boils down to transportation and communication of events and initiatives throughout the city, Zaido said.
But those are both trumped by what she says is the biggest issue facing Salem seniors — isolation, Zaido said.
“The issue isn’t that there isn’t anything to do in Salem,” she said. “There’s tons to do. But the information isn’t always available to everybody.”
Transportation factors in because many seniors can’t or don’t drive, and vans stop running long before the day is over, according to Zaido.
Part of that would be solved by increased hours at the Council On Aging, Zaido said. “The vans they have, stop running at 2:30 (in the afternoon), and life doesn’t stop at 2:30.”
Another issue boils down to what Zaido referred to as “inter-generational aging.” But this isn’t a matter of creating programs that bring teens together with seniors.
“There’s a big difference between 50- and 60-year-olds, and 70-year-olds, and 80-year-olds, and the fastest growing group — 90-year-olds,” Zaido said. “They have different needs and wants. Yet, we put it all together.”
The process through which the city would earn the age-friendly label would address several of these issues, according to Zaido.
With the work, other senior-friendly changes would start popping up around the city, according to Mayor Kim Driscoll. That would include larger street signs and making sure streets are better painted for those with reduced vision, according to Driscoll.
Out of the process, the city could also create a guide for staying in the city, according to the mayor.
“We’re looking at aging in place, and what that means from a community perspective,” Driscoll said. “We want to try to build a livable community. It’s a really good initiative that we feel doesn’t only serve the aging population. It’s for Salem, for all.”
A guide like that would be key to Salem’s objectives going forward, according to Zaido.
Salem isn’t alone in the effort.
“Beverly is now working on this. Peabody is looking into it. (Boston Mayor) Marty Walsh is working on it,” Zaido said. “Brookline has already gotten certified.”
Could Salem be next? There’s still a lot to do before the city receives the stamp of approval, according to Zaido.
“We’re going to start using what we have from this working committee and put together a draft ... of what we’d want to put to the WHO to get classified,” Zaido said. “Then we’ll have another listening session with folks and say, ‘OK, this is what the working committee put together. What would you like to add, subtract?’”
For more on this story or other story-related inquiries, email Salem reporter Dustin Luca at firstname.lastname@example.org, call 978-338-2523 or message @DustinLucaSN on Twitter.