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Nothing Retiring About Philly's 60-Plus Population

This is not your grandfather's retirement.

It wasn't too long ago when reaching retirement age actually meant you stopped working. You sent in your papers, were thrown a party, given your gold watch and warmer climates, pinochle and casino trips awaited.

Not anymore.

Thanks to improved health care, combined with changes in today's business and economic climate, people are living longer, and staying put.

And by staying put, that doesn't mean seniors are just sitting around. Today, retirement is more rolodex than rocking chair. Older people want to do more, and they're finding it here in Philadelphia. According to the Philadelphia Corporation for Aging (PCA), Philadelphia has the highest proportion of older persons (age 60-plus) of any of the 10 largest cities in the United States.

Making Philadelphia Age-Friendly
"Age-Friendly" is the new buzz-word adopted by major cities like Atlanta, New York and Philadelphia that are trying to enable older adults to be healthy, active and engaged in their communities for as long as possible.

PCA's initiative, aptly named Age-Friendly Philadelphia, focuses on the city's vast cultural spectrum.

"Philadelphia's aging population has become more diverse in the last decade. Fifty-five percent of older adults (60-plus) are a minority, foreign born or both," says Allen Glicksman Ph.D., PCA's Director of Research and Evaluation. "That's a big chunk of people with a wide range of health status and education."

In order to better serve this community, Age-Friendly Philadelphia is based on EPA guidelines, highlighting how environmental and behavioral factors such as social connectedness, flexible and accessible housing, ease of transportation/mobility and healthy eating can impact the long-term sustainability of seniors. A perfect example: a shaded bus stop guarded from the elements and accessible public transportation could be the difference between having a senior make a doctor's appointment and being a virtual prisoner in their own home.

"Environment factors, such as the ability to walk on your street, play strongly to an individual's physical and mental health," says Glicksman. "With the close integration of our research with the practices and policy being undertaken in Philadelphia, we were able to show that these EPA guidelines can predict a more age-friendly environment."

Addressing these environmental factors doesn't just help out the 60-plus crowd. When a trolley stop is senior accessible, it also makes public transportation more of an option for the disabled. If parks become more age-friendly, it appeals to families as well. Flexible housing options allow seniors to continue watching their grandchildren while their parents go to work. With every improvement, the whole community benefits.

PCA's dedication to older Philadelphians has been recognized on a national level. In July, Age-Friendly Philadelphia won a National Association of Area Agencies on Aging (n4a) Aging Achievement Award. They've also received an award from the EPA and a research grant from the National Institutes of Health.

But what makes Philadelphia's wide-spread, age-friendly programs truly special is that it isn't just one organization behind the change. Organizations like Philadelphia Serves, the United Way and SEPTA all have initiatives that are complementary to PCA's age-friendly mission.

Case in point: In 2010, Mayor Michael Nutter appointed Lydia Hernandez Deputy Managing Director for Aging to help city agencies rethink their approach to the many issues that seniors face. The city works closely with organizations like PCA in order to help better define how the city responds to the changing needs of seniors in the next decade.

"Philadelphia is undergoing a demographic wave and our goal is to keep seniors in the city and make it a thriving place for them," says Hernandez. "Leveraging expertise of a great partner like PCA is important to help identify quality of life issues for seniors that Philadelphia needs to address."

Says Glickman: "We couldn't be all that successful without the work of these other groups. It's this larger spirit of collaboration that's one of the nicest parts about this. Growing up in Philadelphia, it's wonderful to see all these initiatives from city government and organizations."

Bridging the Generation Gap
The senior boom is accompanied by a spike of young professionals in their 20s and 30s moving into the city and surrounding regions. The latest census data show several Philadelphia neighborhoods, from always-youthful Manayunk to bustling Center City, where young adults constitute the majority demographic breakdown. This evolving dynamic creates an opportunity to bridge the generation gap and establish Philadelphia as a lifelong community for both old and young.

Enter Generation Appreciation Philadelphia or GenPhilly for short, a grassroots organization of younger people dedicated to working with the city's seniors.

"GenPhilly's goal is to break through the stereotypes surrounding our aging population," says Kate Clark, MPA, Planner for GenPhilly. "We're provoking thought among emerging leaders and young professionals from a variety of different communities. In turn, they're planting the seed in their offices and businesses that change the perception regarding older Philadelphians and begin creating programs that deal with aging issues."

GenPhilly holds several events throughout the year, attracting professionals from both in and outside of the aging field. The group focuses on engaging people and getting them excited about working with and learning from older Philadelphians.

"Seniors have a lot to contribute," adds Clark. "We find creative ways, like interactive panels and film screenings, to get people involved in a topic generally seen as boring or depressing. In addition to learning from Philadelphia's most experienced citizens, we're actually helping area businesses and organizations gain a competitive advantage in our region, by creating experts on working with aging populations."

Seniors Staying Engaged
While organizations and initiatives like Age-Friendly Philadelphia and GenPhilly are leading the charge, some of the most-effective campaigns come from the seniors themselves, who feel they still have much to contribute to the business community, often times working outside of the traditional 9-to-5 model.

"Boomers have a different vision about retirement. The industries they work in have changed significantly and so has their outlook," says Hernandez. "The whole structure of work has changed. As a wave of Boomers is leaving the workforce, companies can't let that knowledge and expertise out the door. They give these seasoned employees more flexibility in their work hours."

This need for flexibility was the impetus for creating Ask These Women, a mix between a think tank and consulting firm. Ask These Women consists of successful business executives -- women in their 50's and 60's -- who offer their expertise and insight on a variety of projects, from in-depth studies to "emergencies" with a 24-hour turnaround.

"Many of us are not tied down to full-time commitments, and this is a great way to have fun, make money and still make a contribution," says Mona Doyle, Managing Director for Ask These Women. "We still want to be able to respond to challenges of a project. Deadlines once and a while keep you young. It works like aerobic exercise."

Leanne Wagner, a thought partner with the firm, is focusing on her "portfolio career," equally spending her "retirement" working, traveling and volunteering. She also enjoys working on business problems and providing a different viewpoint.

"A lot of business executives don't have a sounding board," explains Wagner. Ask These Women allows senior executives get feedback and a different perspective outside of company politics to get solutions."

And while Ask These Women leverages these executives' years of industry experience, other seniors start from scratch with a completely new career. Take Marian Lieberman, who at 88-years-young has started Senior Publications of South Jersey, an advertising company that distributes 10,000 issues of Today's Senior Magazine to over 150 locations throughout Southern New Jersey. Liberman was turning heads in the 1950s, leaving her role as homemaker to work for American Express. Since then, she's traveled the world and created a variety of businesses from travel agencies to advertising label companies.

"Working keeps you young. I don't play canasta or mahjong and I don't knit. How much are going to read?" says Liberman. "I can't sit still and do nothing. I don't do it for the money, I'm just career-oriented. I'll do it until I'm 110."

FRANK SINATRA is a freelance writer and communications consultant based in Pennsauken, N.J. Send feedback here.


Ask These Women during a collaborative meeting 

Kate Clark of GenPhilly (courtesy of Kate Clark)

Mona Doyle

Beryl Byles

Nancy Moses

Vicki Kramer

Margaret Sadler

All photographs unless otherwise noted by MICHAEL PERSICO

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