Declaring its intent “to make Seattle a great place for people to grow up and grow old,” in March 2017, the City of Seattle adopted Resolution 31739 to become an age-friendly city. If you live or recreate in Seattle, chances are you aren’t aware of the resolution or its outcome, a 68-page report entitled Age Friendly Seattle Action Plan 2018-2021, chock-full of recommendations about how to improve the lives of older adults who reside in and visit the Emerald City. It turns out Seattle is not alone in their age-friendly concerns.
Our state and region also have advisory groups with current plans. The 43-page 2018-2022 Washington State Plan on Aging contains a set of state policy recommendations approved by the State Council on Aging, a seniors advocacy group providing “a unified voice across Washington” and charged with advising the Governor and Department of Social and Health Services about senior issues. Your local community is part of an Area Agency on Aging with its own regional citizens advisory group that provides input to the State Council on Aging, as well as planning, coordinating, and advocating for services to meet the needs of older adults.
You may be inclined to write off these advisory groups—and their reports—as more government bureaucracy formulating well-meaning plans, only to have them gather dust on an office shelf. However, you should be paying attention. Their policy recommendations shape the priorities of our state and local governments as they respond to the growing population of older adults in Washington. By 2030, Washington’s over 85 population is expected to double. By 2040, its over 60 population will be 22 percent of the state’s demographic. Elected officials are rightfully concerned about our needs now and as we age, our political power, and our impact on their budgets.
Who are these advisory bodies? What are they recommending regarding our rights and well-being as older adults? And how can we become more knowledgeable about their efforts, perhaps even get involved?
In 2006, the World Health Organization (WHO), an international body more familiar because of its recent COVID-19 work, initiated a global research project to identify what communities could do to encourage active aging. The study, which took place in 33 cities in 23 countries, explored the eight domains of livability: housing, transportation, information and communication, outdoor spaces and buildings, community support and health services, social participation, civic participation and employment, and respect and social inclusion. The effort produced assessment tools providing local communities and neighborhoods a way to determine and monitor their own age-friendliness. Out of that work, WHO created a global network of communities to share experiences and lessons learned, a network that today includes 1,000 communities in 41 countries.
In 2012, AARP joined forces with WHO to encourage a U.S. network of communities promoting age-friendly social and physical environments. Five years later the City of Seattle signed on, adopting Resolution 31739, and then producing its three-year Seattle action plan.
More than 2,000 people, including seniors, representatives from community-based organizations, city departments, and community leaders were consulted in the creation of the Age Friendly Seattle Action Plan 2018-2021. Not surprisingly, the greatest unmet needs of the city’s over 60 population were access to safe and affordable housing, transportation, health care, and social opportunities. Those needs were particularly felt among women, communities of color, low- income, and LGBTQ seniors.
The report identified a plethora of already implemented initiatives, such as the Seattle Department of Transportation’s Street Design Toolkit for Age-Friendly Neighborhoods to address obstruction-free walking areas and transit amenities, P-Patch community gardening, Sound Steps, a free year-round walking program for people 50 and over, and the Seattle Public Library’s senior book groups and hot topics discussion meetups.
However, it also identified significant gaps, steps the city could take to ensure its older citizens can fully participate in community life. Among them were recommendations to recruit older adults, particularly those on limited incomes or living with a disability to serve on city policy boards and commissions, specialized employment services for senior job seekers, and a less onerous, better-publicized property tax exemption program.
During the same timeframe, the 20-member Washington State Council on Aging was at work on its report and annual legislative priorities. The council’s membership includes 13 representatives, one each nominated by the Area Agencies on Aging, one member each from the Association of Counties and Association of Cities, and five at-large appointments. The 2020 legislative agenda included the creation of low-cost housing options for older adults, more focus on homeless seniors needing services, and funding for the state’s Long-Term Care Ombudsman program, now staffed largely by volunteers.
The council also approved the 2018-22 Washington State Plan on Aging with six ambitious state goals, each with a set of strategic objectives and measurements. They range from empowering older people to stay healthy and active through expansion of evidence-based healthy aging programs, promoting equity, diversion, and inclusion in staffing and state policies and programs impacting older adults and improving the quality of long-term care.
Each of the Area Agencies on Aging is required to have an advisory council “representing the interests of the public to assist in identifying unmet needs, needed services, and provide advocacy.” The advisory council in my own area is made up of 11 unpaid volunteers appointed for three-year terms by the county commissioners. Every attempt is made to appoint with county-wide representation and diversity in mind. Those volunteers conduct public hearings and review and comment on all community policies, programs, and actions affecting older adults.
The singular task of these appointed groups is the improvement of our senior lives now and as we age. There are multiple ways to monitor and influence their work, but it begins with education. Read their full reports to familiarize yourself with their functions and recommendations. You can log onto the websites of Age Friendly Seattle, the State Council on Aging, and Area Agencies on Aging for updated information and newsletters. The meetings of all the groups are open to the public (during the pandemic they meet by Zoom), with schedules and agendas posted online. If you want to become more involved, seek an appointment on your Area Agency on Aging advisory council. If you live in Seattle, Age Friendly Seattle has a community-based task force that meets monthly.
Instead of waiting for city, state, and regional age-friendly report recommendations to take effect, consider changes you can initiate in your own neighborhood or community to make it age-livable.
Who better to understand government initiatives affecting the lives of seniors than us, the subjects of all that focus? We possess the expertise to know if elected officials are creating accessible parks and public transportation systems or building safe senior low-income housing. But we need to get involved in the rooms where those decisions are made. This is what democracy looks like.
Ann Randall is an independent traveler and writer who loves venturing to out-of-the-way locales from Azerbaijan to Zimbabwe. A former educator, she now observes international elections and does volunteer work in India. Her articles have appeared in online and print publications, and she blogs at PeregrineWoman.com.
Visit and Bookmark these Important Websites:
Age Friendly Seattle Action Plan: www.seattle.gov/agefriendly
AARP Livable Communities: https://www.aarp.org/livable-communities/about/
Washington State Plan on Aging: https://www.dshs.wa.gov/altsa/state-plan-aging
Washington State Council on Aging: https://www.dshs.wa.gov/altsa/home-and-community-services/washington-state-council-aging-scoa
Area Agency on Aging: https://www.agingwashington.org/