Age-Friendly Task Force Continues Commitment to Seniors

The group, co-led by President Knapp, makes progress on a strategic plan focused on the aging community.

President  Knapp meets with members of the Age-Friendly D.C. Task Force on July 31.
President Knapp meets with members of the Age-Friendly D.C. Task Force on July 31.
August 04, 2014
Urbanization in D.C. has revitalized neighborhoods, sparked population growth and ignited business booms, making our nation’s capital a more vibrant metropolis than ever before. But amid all the changes, there’s one population that risks getting lost in the shuffle: D.C.’s seniors.
Now, the city is on a mission to become age-friendly by 2017. As part of the World Health Organization’s international effort to help elderly communities, D.C. created the Age-Friendly Task Force. The group of 23 leaders has been working hard this year to develop a strategic plan that will improve living conditions for aging adults in Washington. Mayor Vincent Gray, B.S. ’64, selected the George Washington University’s President Steven Knapp to co-chair the task force with Deputy Mayor Beatriz Otero.
Last Thursday, task force members participated in a meeting at the Wilson Building to discuss the headway they have made as they collect research from across the community and work on a senior-focused plan to present to the public.
“I'm delighted about the task force’s progress on developing its strategic plan. The final product will ultimately better the quality of life in our great city,” Dr. Knapp said.
The task force identified central areas—or domains—that Washington could improve, including housing, transportation, civic participation, emergency preparedness, elder abuse and social inclusion. Committee representatives were asked to research each domain and present key findings at Thursday’s meeting.
The group tapped the community for insight, and GW played a role as its faculty and students contributed expertise and advice. Graduate student Mills Wallace, for example, drafted a paper on social participation and inclusion.
Collaboration was critical to the research task force member Kathy Sykes did on outdoor spaces and recreational facilities for seniors. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Senior Advisor for Aging and Sustainability Kathy Sykes and her team pored over reports from other age-friendly cities and listened carefully to comments from community meetings and walking audits. She also sought insight from organizations and individuals including the National Center for Healthy Housing; D.C. Hunger Solutions; D.C. Parks and Recreation; and GW pediatrician Robert Zarr, who has done research on how the outdoors can improve health.  
Ms. Sykes explained that task force members and federal partners in the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Department of Transportation, the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Health and Human Services and the EPA have also been helpful.
“Since the federal government has a large footprint in D.C. in terms of parks and federal buildings, it was clear that we needed federal partners at the table too,” she said.
At Thursday’s meeting, task force members analyzed the domains and made plans to continue drafting their strategic plan, which will be shared with the public in October. D.C. Age-Friendly City Coordinator Gail Kohn closed the meeting by outlining what steps the city can take after the plan is presented. The task force’s next meeting will be held in GW’s Marvin Center this fall.
Ms. Sykes said she looks forward to the progress the task force will continue to make.
“I am honored to be a part of this process to make D.C. a city that is a great place to live and grow older,” Ms. Sykes said. “With continued counsel from our elders, we will succeed in becoming a city that is friendly for all ages and abilities.”