Seniors Discuss Community Concerns

Walks Throughout District Focus on Likes, Dislikes

Sam P.K. Collins | 5/28/2014, 3 p.m.
Yolanda Fell checks on friends, picks up trash, and jots down neighbors' concerns during walks around her neighborhood. Although she ...
Aurelia Clifford (left), 87, Margaret Labat, 84, and Margaret's grandson Sean Holmes, 11, chatted while they walked throughout Ward 7 during the block-by-block Age-Friendly DC Initiative earlier this spring. Nancy Shia

Yolanda Fell checks on friends, picks up trash, and jots down neighbors’ concerns during walks around her neighborhood. Although she considers her weekly routine a part of her civic duty, Fell said that her efforts have gone unnoticed by District agencies in recent months.

Fell, a retired IT specialist who has lived in her 16th Street Heights neighborhood in Northwest for more than 20 years, reached the boiling point last month after several failed attempts to have broken street lights replaced in a nearby park and alley.

“The pace of change really depends on who you are,” said Fell as she looked around Arkansas Avenue with her hands placed squarely on her hips. "What amazed me was when new residents wanted a dog park on Upshur Street and it was there within a year's time. We have talked about a getting a light pole on our block for years and it still hasn't happened." 

Fell and two other women recently toured ANC Single Member District 4C02 with representatives of the DC State Office of the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP). The small group gathered at Mary Church Terrell Park on the corner of 13th and Emerson Streets in Northwest and walked along Arkansas Avenue, Georgia Avenue and 13th Street.

The hour-long walk earlier this month counted among dozens of Age-Friendly DC Block-by-Block Walks that the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services (DMHHS) and the D.C. Office on Aging have organized since mid-March. These efforts, part of its Age-Friendly DC Initiative, will help the District become a World Health Organization-certified age-friendly city by 2017.

In the months leading up to the walks, D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray created a 23-person Age-Friendly DC Task Force and DMHHS partnered with the AARP DC State Office and local senior publication The Beacon to gather opinions about services and amenities. The DC Office on Aging also hosted an Age-Friendly City Forum at the Howard Theatre and the Mayor’s Annual Senior Symposium at the Omni Shoreham Hotel, both in Northwest, last year that attracted a total of 800 people.

Gail Kohn, coordinator of the Age-Friendly DC Initiative, said Gray will present the final recommendations of the Age-Friendly DC Task Force during a symposium scheduled for October.

“Cities worldwide are transforming to the point where the elderly represent 20 percent of the population,” said Kohn. “Even though D.C.’s not there yet, these efforts encourage us to take better care of our seniors. Many young people also like this city and will stay here when their hair turns gray.”

So far, walks have been completed or scheduled in one-third of the city and more than 500 reports submitted to the 311 hotline have called for improvements to sidewalks, crosswalks, signage and traffic signals. In surveys conducted by the AARP DC State Office, people listed the upheaval and crumbling of sidewalks by tree roots, broken streetlights, and difficulty crossing the street as some of their most pressing concerns.

Charles Butler, a District resident since 1960, took part in trial walks in October 2013 after receiving an email from the Office of Disability Rights. He said that local officials need to give as much attention to neighborhoods as they have commercial areas.