Barbara Kim Stanton
Hawai‘i Herald Columnist
The City and County of Honolulu took a giant step forward in creating a more livable Honolulu — making our city a better place in which to grow up and grow old.
That’s because of a new law authored by Honolulu City Councilmember Ann Kobayashi and signed by Mayor Kirk Caldwell earlier this month that creates an Age-Friendly Honolulu program within city government.
The new law requires every city department to review its services, facilities and projects to make sure that they are age-friendly and meet the needs of all generations — from kupuna to keiki.
It also requires departments to report on their progress toward age-friendly goals. That reporting requirement gives teeth to the law and ensures that there will be measurable progress.
It means that parks should have exercise areas for adults as well as playgrounds for children, and when the city approves developments around transit stations, the new communities that are created will be planned with facilities and services for people of all ages. Developers and planners should be looking at senior centers and daycare in addition to childcare so that caregivers and parents can drop off loved ones when taking the train to work.
The new law has been years in the making. The city started adopting age-friendly principles in 2013, when Honolulu applied for World Health Organization and AARP designation as an Age-Friendly Community.
Councilmember Ann Kobayashi, who wrote the Age-Friendly Honolulu bill, was part of those efforts from the start.
“We have to keep everybody in mind,” Kobayashi said. “We should help seniors as much as possible and keep them healthy with exercise programs and making parks accessible.”
Helping seniors is a passion for Kobayashi, who grew up in a multigenerational home.
“I was always watching how hard everyone worked and believed they deserve to have their last years enjoying life,” she said. Putting age-friendly principles into law also ensures that age-friendliness will continue long after the current mayor and City Council are gone.
Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell said the first age-friendly changes the public may see is a review of street crossings that could result in better lighting around crosswalks and safer streets and sidewalks.
Making improvements for older residents doesn’t just benefit kupuna, the mayor noted. If you make a sidewalk or building more accessible for someone in a walker or wheelchair, you are also making it more accessible for a mother with a baby stroller.
Caldwell envisions parks as gathering places with paths where kids, parents, and grandparents can walk or bike together and shade trees with accessible benches where older adults can watch their kids or grandkids play.
Kupuna shouldn’t feel trapped in high-rise apartments, the mayor said. Grocery stores, outdoor activities, doctors’ offices and other services should be nearby and accessible. It should be enticing and easy for them to leave their apartments.
“How do you create a community where you take care of everybody from our keiki to our seniors?”
That’s the city’s new mandate.
Barbara Kim Stanton has been the state director of AARP Hawai‘i since 2005. She writes about living a life of real possibilities, where age is not a limit and experience equals wisdom.