Five years ago this month we finished work on Salem’s Age-Friendly Action Plan, the outcome of which was the Salem for All Ages initiative.

As we reach this milestone, we are grateful, as a city that values and includes people of all ages and abilities in our community’s vibrancy, activity and programming, for the many individuals and organizations who have contributed to the success of the initiative.

Salem for All Ages is overseen by a leadership council, comprised of public officials, community leaders, and the heads of nonprofits and businesses across Salem. I am thankful for the time and attention the Leadership Council members have devoted to helping prioritize the initiative’s work and shape its growth and trajectory over the past five years.

The day-to-day work of implementing the action plan’s recommendations is handled by the dedicated members of the Salem for All Ages Task Force. The task force, which meets monthly both as a group and in smaller subcommittees addressing specific focus areas of the age-friendly plan, is made up of city staff, board and commission members, and other community members. They share a common vision of a welcoming city that supports and includes people of every age.

Since 2016, Salem for All Ages has celebrated many achievements.

To help provide greater access to community resources, the task force went to work in year one setting up a website, www.salemforallages.org, and social media presence, as well as a printed Salem for All Ages resource guide, which is mailed out each month to Salem residents who have turned 65 years old. To better connect older adults with volunteer opportunities in our city, Salem for All Ages took on the overhaul of www.salemvolunteers.org, to provide connections between organizations in need of help and residents eager to get involved to better the community.

Sharing information is a key part of the Salem for All Ages mission and the group has fulfilled that by hosting numerous events, symposiums, and speakers over the years. Highlights include presentations on universal design by the Institute for Human-Centered Design, a transportation fair to share information about the multiple options for getting around Salem and the region, and a speaker series of doctors and health professionals organized in collaboration with North Shore Physicians Group and North Shore Medical Center. Task force leaders have also been invited to speak and present to other cities and towns throughout Massachusetts interested in emulating the Salem for All Ages model to create their own age-friendly programs.

The Salem for All Ages health subcommittee helped with Salem Together’s thousands of well-being check-in phone calls to Salem seniors in the spring of 2020 during pandemic lockdown. The group has also been part of Salem Food For All’s efforts to expand community gardens and nutritious food options at the Community Life Center and its drive-through farmer’s market, our community’s pantry sites, and through emergency food delivery for homebound seniors during the pandemic. Most recently they have been working closely with North Shore Medical Center on a “food is medicine” program to help better align medical care with diet and nutrition with local healthcare providers.

In order to expand our age-friendly practices throughout the community, Salem for All Ages launched the Age-Friendly Business certification program, to highlight those businesses that met key standards and metrics for inclusivity and accessibility. In addition, Task Force members have given presentations and trainings to major employers in the community, helping them better understand customer service and approaches for respectful personal interactions with older customers, patrons, and clients. These trainings have also included for City staff and personnel.

Some of the most visible work of the Salem for All Ages initiative, however, is visible in the incredibly popular Salem Skipper program, the completion of the City’s Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Transition Plan, and our recent adoption of a law allowing affordable Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs), sometimes also called in-law apartments.

The Salem Skipper is a low-cost, on-demand public shuttle made possible thanks to an initial planning grant from the Tufts Health Plan Foundation that had been secured by the Salem for All Ages Task Force’s Transportation Subcommittee, in partnership with the City’s Traffic and Parking Department. Since the service launched in December 2020 the Skipper has given over 20,000 rides, including thousands to residents over the age of 65. What’s more, by operating in a ride-share model, the service has off-set tons of carbon dioxide from avoided private passenger travel.

Salem is one of the half of Massachusetts municipalities with an updated ADA Transition Plan. The most recent update to our plan came in 2019-2020, thanks to initial work by the Salem for All Ages Task Force’s public spaces subcommittee. The plan identifies opportunities for improving accessibility in city buildings, parks, and other spaces, as well as strategies to make city websites, services, and information more broadly accessible. The Task Force, in partnership with the Salem Commission on Disabilities and the city’s capital projects director and our Americans with Disabilities Act coordinator and assistant are now working on implementing those recommendations and instilling a culture of accessibility in every future project and program we undertake.

Lastly, the work of the Salem for All Ages Task Force’s housing subcommittee was instrumental in making possible a major overhaul to our city’s Accessory Dwelling Unit law. ADUs are endorsed by the AARP as a critical tool in helping seniors to age in place. Not only can they provide additional income to older homeowners, many of whom are living on fixed incomes already, in some instances they can provide housing themselves for the older resident, allowing them to downsize to a more suitable and accessible space, while still remaining in the house where they have lived for so long. Salem’s ADU law went even further than many others, requiring steep levels of affordability, the preservation of neighborhood parking and character, and compliance with the design and dimensional requirements of the zone in which the ADU is built.

Salem is for everyone. We have always been a community defined by our diversity. From the dock workers of the Great Age of Sail, living in tenements around the corner from the sea captain’s mansions, to the generations of immigrants from so many countries, working in tanneries and factories with dreams of planting their own roots and raising their families here.

Salem for All Ages is a continuation of those values, of that tradition, and of those centuries of variety, of mixture, and of growth.

While 1 out of every 5 Salem residents are over the age of 60 today, that figure is expected to climb to one in four by 2030, increasing from around 8,000 individuals today to as many as 12,000 people in just a few years’ time.

Some of these individuals are moving to Salem, attracted by our cultural and historic amenities, our active waterfront and downtown, our walkability, and our numerous community, social, and health care service providers. Many more, however, are already living here in Salem today. They are the population of rising seniors who are mobile, active, and love the community where they live. They want to age in place – perhaps not in the exact house, condo, or apartment where they are living today, but certainly right here in Salem. Our senior population and those who will become seniors over the coming decades are a dynamic group. They want to be active, civically engaged, and to have their voices heard. Salem for All Ages honors those aspirations and strives to meet them.

In Salem we are thoughtful about how we approach the future. Great cities do not happen by accident. They take careful planning, public input, and meaningful action. I am so pleased by the work of the Salem for All Ages team over the last five years. Their efforts have truly made Salem a city that works for and welcomes everyone.

Kim Driscoll is the mayor of Salem. This column was produced in cooperation with the Salem for All Ages Task Force.

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