Age-friendly in Honolulu

Honolulu Age-Friendly City

Living together in extended families is not unusual in Hawaii. I grew up in a multigenerational household (though we didn’t call ourselves “multigenerational”). I lived with my father, aunt, and grandparents in a three-bedroom home. By sharing incomes, we were all able to live comfortably. My grandparents were a big part of my life, and even took me on my first vacation to Disneyland. There were always adults to look after me when I was young, and someone to run to if I was in trouble with someone else. The one drawback was that I couldn’t invite friends over –there just wasn’t room for more people.

Later in life, my parents took care of my grandparents, who were able to “age in place” (another term we didn’t use). It was difficult; our 1950s single-walled construction home had a stairway to the living area, narrow doorways, and small bathrooms. No one thought about getting older when they built the home.

There are two important things that I learned from living in a multigenerational household:

* Everyone should contribute to household expenses and chores. In my family, everyone had a full-time or part-time job. My parents contributed money to buy groceries, household items, and gas. As a kid, I think that “homework” was one of my chores.

* Everyone needs their own space. It doesn’t have to be a room. My grandmother’s space was outside in the yard, where she grew flowers and fruits. My grandfather’s space was a recliner, set right in front of the television, within reach of the remote control and the telephone.

I was very interested to read the report on “Making Honolulu an Age-Friendly City: An Action Plan” (3/25/15), prepared the University of Hawaii Center on Aging. It’s specific to Honolulu, but the plan could be customized for other cities in Hawaii.

According to AARP, an age-friendly city entails “an inclusive and accessible urban or suburban environment that encourages active and healthy aging.” The plan identifies six lifestyle “domains” – Outdoor Spaces and Buildings, Transportation, Housing, Communication and Social Involvement, Civic Participation and Employment, and Community Support and Health Services. For each domain, it identifies a vision and goals; offers a snapshot of Honolulu today; outlines strengths, gaps, and challenges; highlights opportunities for improvement; and recommends actions. The comment period has already closed, but I encourage you to read the action plan.

Some of the practical recommendations include clean, well-maintained public restrooms; well-maintained streets and more frequent bus service; more affordable housing (including accessory dwelling units, cohousing projects, multigenerational developments, and micro-units); more community programs and adult education; affordable health care; and elder care training for families. I really like the efforts to create multigenerational projects, such as housing that pairs seniors and college students; and education that pairs seniors and school children. In general, the plan recommends increased police presence in high-crime and high-accident areas; greater use of social media, apps, and “awareness” campaigns; and more community involvement, in the form of community ambassadors, “Citizens on Patrol,” and a volunteer corps for park and restroom maintenance.

Here are four things that I think we could do fairly easily right now:

* Build more drinking fountains. Plans for bicycle lanes and fitness stations should include drinking fountains to keep people hydrated and encourage fitness. We could ask civic groups and fitness clubs to sponsor them and help with maintenance. [Outdoor spaces and buildings; inexpensive]

* Prioritize TheHandi-Van program for doctor and medical visits, least until we have a more timely and reliable service. My grandmother would often take a taxi to/from her doctor’s appointments, because the pick-up times were unpredictable. [Transportation; no cost]

* Start a shuttle service to district parks. The Department of Parks and Recreation could organize a shuttle service to/from senior programs at district parks, for a small transit fee. DPR already contracts with a shuttle for special outings, so this would be a regular service. [Transportation, Communication and Social Involvement; somewhat expensive]

* Create a building permit checklist for multigenerational housing. There may already be a checklist with suggested ideas for designing and renovating a multigenerational home. There are a lot of things we don’t think about when we’re young and single – until we get older and less mobile. It could be given out to home builders, contractors, and home loan officers in addition to homeowners and home renovators. [Housing; low-cost]

I understand that this is an action plan, not an implementation plan, but three things are missing: 1) the estimated costs involved and funding sources; 2) a priority list sorted by “must-haves” and “nice-to-haves”; and 3) a fast-track list of things that can be done quickly and economically. Let’s see what the Honolulu City Council and the Hawaii legislature do next.

Have you lived in a multigenerational household, or are you planning to? If you have, what challenges have you faced and are their unexpected benefits? If not, what would make you consider living with your parents or children again?

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