Age-friendly Portland
Author: Karthryn Kirkland
Posted: January 18, 2008

Portland marqueeFROM ISTANBUL to Rio de Janeiro to Portland, older people are asking for the same things: to be respected, to be included, and to have suitable and affordable housing.

The needs of older adults in 33 cities across 22 countries are candidly revealed in "Age-Friendly Cities: A Guide," recently published by the World Health Organization (WHO). Portland was the only U.S. city to participate in the project, thanks to research conducted by PSU Prof. Margaret Neal, director of the PSU Institute on Aging, and doctoral student Alan DeLaTorre. The guide is aimed to advise city and regional agencies and governments around the globe as they strive to make their cities and services more age-friendly.

Neal says that because of the growing legion of baby boomers, the Portland-Vancouver metropolitan area will see a doubling of its 65-and-older population over the next 30 years, making this one of the fastest-growing population segments. The same thing is happening in the rest of the world. The WHO study reports that by 2050, the number of people 60 and older will surpass the number of those 14 and younger for the first time on record.

PORTLAND IS WELL SITUATED to handle this demographic shift in key areas that the WHO guide values: easy transportation, friendly service people, meaningful volunteer opportunities, housing close to shopping, and accessible outdoor and recreation areas with those always important benches and bathrooms.

"People like all the parks, the green spaces, and the environment here," says Neal. "They also like organizations such as Elders in Action, where older adults are consulted with respect to decisions and issues that matter in their daily lives."

Elders in Action was one of several service organizations that provided volunteers, older adults, informal caregivers, and others to serve on focus groups for Neal's study. Participants were asked to evaluate their everyday experiences in such areas as transportation, outdoor spaces, housing affordability, employment, and civic engagement opportunities.

Respect and social inclusion was also evaluated, and Portland scored high with many citizens and business people, including TriMet drivers, showing respect and sensitivity to the needs of "Honored Citizens"—a TriMet term. Educational opportunities such as PSU's free classes and discounted classes at Portland Community College elevated Portland's social inclusion rating.

For Raissa Moore, 71, the opportunity to give back to the city was her top priority, and as a focus group participant, she found that others shared her view.

biking and walking near the Willamette River"TO BE A WORTHY CITIZEN and maintain my dignity, I want to give back to Portland, the city that has given me so much," says Moore. She volunteers at Multnomah County Library, Oregon Humane Society, Portland Parks and Recreation, and at her synagogue. One of her most interesting volunteer jobs is certifying businesses as elder-friendly through Elders in Action. For example, Moore and her cohorts put Portland Nursery through a 10-page certification test. The Southeast Portland business passed with flying colors.

The city does have areas in need of improvement. The lack of affordable housing and employment for those 65 and older was mentioned as a recurring barrier to age-friendliness. Seniors not only found age discrimination in the workforce toward themselves, but also toward their children, who are in their 40s and 50s. However, New Seasons Market scored high in hiring seniors.

Portland is expected to serve as an example in other parts of the world, as cities initiate age-friendly development and practices. The World Health Organizations will follow up with more in-depth studies in years to come.

PDX Age-friendly features

  • Parks, trails, and community gardens
  • TriMet, RideWise, Ride Connection
  • Motorized carts at Portland International Airport
  • Plentiful disabled designated parking
  • Portland Department of Transportation Senior Cyclist program
  • Northwest Pilot Project and Housing Connections
  • Elders in Action
  • PSU Senior Adult Learning Center
  • Portland Community College discount for those 62 and older
  • Multnomah County Aging and Disability Services Helpline

Barriers to age-friendliness

  • Lack of sidewalks, particularly on the westside
  • Lack of visible building numbers
  • Lack of valet parking at large institutions or at public events
  • Lack of affordable housing
  • Limited federally subsidized housing and housing assistance
  • Lack of new housing that allows older adults to age in place
  • Lack of education regarding the process of aging
  • Limited employment options for older adults
  • Lack of affordable health care
  • No central clearinghouse on education and services for older adults