Growing Gracefully Grayer in Gotham

The city's elderly population is expected to grow by 50 percent over the next 20 years — and the city is trying to soften some of the edges of the urban environment to help seniors not only live longer but also more easily.

Sara Aarons, 91, who a city-sponsored Age Friendly NYC event on the Upper West Side on Tuesday, said she would never move from Manhattan but would like to see the city focus on creating more wheel-chair accessible sidewalks. 

"People say, 'You know in assisted living you could have everything at your fingertip, you wouldn't have to struggle,'" said Aarons, who is wheel-chair bound. "I said, 'It's not a struggle!' It's wonderful to get out into the environment  and the community and then you feel a part of it."

The event, held in a conference room off of 61st Street and Broadway, allowed seniors to pick up tips on where to find free supermarket deliveries, improved bus routes and volunteer opportunities.

One of the organizers, Councilwoman Gail Brewer, said one volunteer resource, TimeBank, allows New Yorkers to barter and exchange skills for services.

"If you need your apartment painted or you need a ride to the airport, then there's somebody ... so you can exchange currency, which is just your interest, and that person's car," she said.

Philip Cherry, who attended with his wife Ruth of 60 years, was a cellist in the orchestra for the Metropolitan Opera for 38 years. He still plays music and paints. She sculpts, volunteers, and is also busy working on a memoir. They both made contorted faces when asked if they had ever considered spending their later years somewhere else, like Florida for instance.

"If you want to sit on your backside and rock back and forth, then maybe there are better spots to live," Cherry said, "but this is the only place you can only go to the Metropolitan Opera, to the Philharmonic, the Metropolitan Museum and Central Park. Those are the outstanding, irreplaceable things."

In the few years since the Age Friendly pilot project began, the city has launched nearly 60 initiatives focused on improving life for older adults. According to the group, the top items surveyed seniors would most like to see fixed are: Physical, linguistic and cultural barriers to accessing resources; affordability; and changing neighborhoods, networks and families that lead to social isolation.