The Equity Factor

We Asked Seniors: How Can Your City Change to Accommodate Older Residents?

Mina Smith, 72, paints in Philadelphia’s Rittenhouse Square.

Editor’s Note: In this week’s installment of Next City’s weekly longform series, “The All-Ages City,” writer Edward McClelland explores how to design the perfect city for getting older. It’s a timely question — by 2030, 20 percent of the U.S. will be senior citizens, compared to 13 percent today. McClelland talks to urban planners, architects and, of course, seniors about how communities can adapt to meet the needs of graying residents. We sent photographer Jessica Kourkounis into the streets of Philadelphia to talk to a few seniors and find out the adaptations they want to see in the city they call home.

Robert Riley, 70, lives in North Philadelphia. In this photo, above, he’s outside the Philadelphia Senior Center on Broad Street at Lombard, downtown.

As you find yourself aging, what do you notice about the way you relate to the city?
The city has changed since I was a child. It’s getting better for building and tourism, but the crime rate is too high for residents.

What keeps you living in the city?
Finances. I’m on a fixed income. If I could afford it I’d move to a rural area in Georgia or Florida.

Is there anything you see that you think should be changed to accommodate older people?
There needs to be more senior housing and assistance programming. People need help.

Saufan Fung, 67, was outside Coffee Cup Senior Center in the Washington Square neighborhood of Center City. She lives just outside Philly, in an inner-ring suburb called Glenside. She moved there after she retired, after years in the city’s Northeast.

As you find yourself aging, what do you notice about the way you relate to the city?
As I get older I will stay at home more and just garden and take care of my grandchildren.

What keeps you [coming to] the city?
I come to the city and this center for food and to eat mostly, sometimes for an activity.

Is there anything you see that you think should be changed to accommodate older people?
Before I retired, I lived on my own in Northeast Philadelphia. Now I live with my daughter and grandchildren. There needs to be more senior homes for middle class. I have too much to qualify for low-income, but not enough to pay for my own apartment. Nowhere to go but stay with my children. We take care of each other, help each other, but there is no privacy.

Aglai — who goes by Gloria — Efstatathiadis, 76, is outside her tailer shop in Center City, where she also lives.

As you find yourself aging, what do you notice about the way you relate to the city?
I like it here in Center City. I think organizations for seniors is doing OK.

What keeps you living in the city?
My business is here.

Is there anything you see that you think should be changed to accommodate older people?
Sometimes it is a struggle in Center City to keep up. For example, the Parking Authority, they ticket you too quickly. I was unloading into my shop, my trunk was open, I was pulled over on the side … they gave me a $76 ticket. It is not easy for older business owners. And the cost of living is more expensive.

Mina Smith is 72 years old. She moved to Center City in 1963. Above, she’s in Rittenhouse Square Park.

As you find yourself aging, what do you notice about the way you relate to the city?
There are too many dogs and bikers. I think it’s OK to race at the Schuylkill River, but it is for recreation not racing.

What keeps you living in the city?
It’s walkable. My boyfriend lives in the city. I would never leave Philadelphia. You can walk everywhere and public transportation is free for seniors. There are a lot of services and activities for seniors throughout the city.

Is there anything you see that you think should be changed to accommodate older people?
There needs to be more elevators in the senior centers and places like that, so people don’t need to rely on paratransit.

The Equity Factor is made possible with the support of the Surdna Foundation.

Jessica Kourkounis is a Philadelphia-based freelance photographer. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times and the Washington Post.

Tags: baby boomers