Our View: Making Our Communities Livable for All New Yorkers

AARP Racial Disparities Report

By Nora OBrien-Suric, Ph.D., President
and Randy Hoak, Associate State Director, AARP New York

It seems like it should be self-evident, but for a community in our state to truly be considered livable and age-friendly, it must be livable and age-friendly for all New Yorkers—regardless of race or ethnicity.

Sadly, that is too often not the case today for New Yorkers of color over age 50.

In a report titled “Disrupting Racial and Ethnic Disparities: Solutions for New Yorkers 50+,” AARP New York and partner organizations stated that “key disparities that exist in the areas of health, economic security and livability among 50-plus New Yorkers of color create inequalities that can limit or even impede their choices” regarding how they live as they age.

We know that conditions in the places where we live, learn, work, and play—conditions known as the social determinants of health—contribute significantly to our health risks and outcomes. We know that access to healthcare is intrinsically linked to quality of healthcare.

The AARP New York report, which offers policy recommendations as well as valuable insights, offers a sobering reminder of how deeply entrenched racial and ethnic disparities are throughout New York State. And it underscores how much work remains to be done to ensure that all New Yorkers—especially those of color over age 50—can one day live in safe, secure, affordable, inclusive, and age-friendly communities.

‘Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities Persist’

To help community-based agencies and leaders move toward that goal, the Health Foundation is once again partnering with AARP to host the 2019 AARP Leading on Livability Pre-Summit Workshop on September 23, the day before the third annual AARP Leading on Livability Summit begins on September 24-25 at the Hyatt Regency Buffalo.

We’re especially excited to have Dr. JaNay Queen Nazaire, a leader and collaborator on equity and livability issues, leading the pre-summit workshop. Dr. Queen Nazaire will walk participants through the personal work leaders need to do, the ways they can leverage the power and authority they have in their roles, and how to begin the work to shift policies, practices, and processes in institutions so systems change and support equitable and livable communities for all New Yorkers. Register here for the pre-Summit workshop.

There is much work to be done. The AARP New York report, released with the Asian American Federation, the Hispanic Federation, the NAACP, and the New York Urban League, found:

“Widespread and well-documented racial and ethnic health disparities persist across New York State, driven by a multitude of interacting factors including access, affordability and other health care system factors, as well as socioeconomic factors that contribute to social disadvantage, such as poverty, residential segregation, unemployment or low educational attainment.”

Convening Leaders on Livability

This year’s Livability Summit will also address a wide range of topics, including transportation, economic development, sustainable development, housing, rural livability, and many more. Register for the Summit.

Significantly, this marks the third straight year that the Livability Summit has been held in upstate New York. (The first conference was held in Albany in 2017, and the second in Syracuse in 2018.) It offers the opportunity to bring the conversation about livability upstate, while also spotlighting some of the outstanding work being done by communities in the region.

It will take all of us—advocates, government leaders, planners, non-profit leaders, academic leaders, leaders in philanthropy, local elected officials, social workers, community organizations, safety advocates, walkability advocates, zoning board members and personnel, and many more—working together to make our communities more livable.

We hope to see you in Buffalo for the pre-Summit workshop and the AARP Leading on Livability Summit.

Creating an Age-Friendly New York State

The partnership between the Health Foundation and AARP on the Livability Summit is part of a broader collaboration as we help advance the Age-Friendly New York State initiative. As the first state to join the World Health Organization-AARP Network of Age-Friendly Communities, New York is at the forefront of efforts to make all our communities better places for all ages.

To advance that vision, the Health Foundation and AARP are part of an innovative, multi-year, public-private initiative with the New York State Office for the Aging and the New York Academy of Medicine to provide $1.6 million in state and foundation funds to 13 localities to think and act on a community level and create healthier, age-friendly places to live. The Foundation also is supporting a learning collaborative of the participating communities to spread best practices, as they develop, across the state.

We encourage other organizations and agencies to find their own place in this crucial work to make our communities healthier, more age-friendly, and livable for all New Yorkers.