By Tom Momberg
Bayside is one of two neighborhoods in Queens that was recently selected to be a part of the New York City Council’s “Age-friendly Neighborhoods Initiative,” which is attempting to make the city and its naturally-occurring retirement communities more accommodating to older individuals.
Roughly 75 Baysiders turned up at the Clearview Selfhelp Senior Center Wednesday to participate in the discussion and find ways to increase seniors’ access to services and resources in northeast Queens.
As one of the initiative’s biggest proponents, City Councilman Paul Vallone (D-Bayside) was excited to announce that his district was one of only 13 chosen from around the five boroughs. Far Rockaway was the other neighborhood from Queens chosen for the initiative.
Vallone, who led Wednesday’s meeting, said the city is constantly trying to find better ways to communicate to all residents about the legal, social or transportation services that are available to them, which some people may just not be aware of.
“Sometimes we hear, ‘Oh, I didn’t know I could use that form of transportation to get around,’ so sometimes it’s just communication and (finding) the services that are already available,” the councilman said.
Now, the focus is on seniors, Vallone said.
“What would make life for each one of you better, just coming from home to here, getting to the supermarket, going to the library or visiting your family?” he asked the crowd. “What can be made better that is required of our lives as the city is growing and making things more difficult?”
Many of those who participated in the conversation had brought up concerns over access to services as well as the associated costs. Some were worried about the cost of housing, legal or civil services, as well as the cost of health services such as emergency alert buttons. Others asked if service hours at some city agencies or libraries could be extended, and if something could be done to make businesses and services more handicapped friendly.
Vallone said many of those problems could be addressed, but that it is really about fighting bureaucracy in making things more accessible and affordable for low- to middle-income seniors.
“Today is your chance to say how to make District 19 the best it can be for our seniors,” Vallone said. “Unless you tell me about it, I can’t go back to the agencies to try to have them get it done.”
The matters discussed at Wednesday’s age-friendly meeting won’t end there, he vowed.
The initiative was made possible by $400,000 in funding from the City Council, which, in partnership with the New York Academy of Medicine, will be spent cataloguing the suggestions of older residents and leveraging the expertise of community leaders in each selected neighborhood to address those matters.
Age-friendly initiative Project Manager Meghan Lynch, with the New York Academy of Medicine, said that many of the problems she has heard from around the city are different and unique to each council district.
Plans in other districts have led to the creation of senior swim times at public pools, an expansion of the CityBench program and the implementation of age-friendly local business initiatives.
“We want to build a plan and come in and make changes that will hopefully make your lives better here in District 19,” the first draft of which Lynch said would be released by April 16.
Many of the attendees filled out surveys that will help the initiative administrators determine where to allocate resources. The surveys are available to residents of Council District 19, which incorporates Auburndale, Bayside, Bay Terrace, Beechhurst, College Point, Douglaston, Little Neck, North Flushing and Whitestone, online at www.nyam.org/