Princeton is First in New Jersey To Win “Age Friendly” Designation
When Susan Hoskins started investigating the World Health Organization’s (WHO) designations of “age friendly communities” over a year ago, she felt as if she were reading a description of Princeton. Among the requirements were a walkable downtown, access to cultural activities, safe and affordable transportation, and a range of housing options.
“I thought to myself, this sounds like Princeton already,” said Hoskins, the executive director of the Princeton Senior Resource Center, during an interview in her office last week. This past summer, Princeton became the first community in New Jersey to win the designation, joining other towns across the world in the WHO’s Network of Age Friendly Communities, which aims to help people age comfortably and easily in their own homes.
Being named to this network has real significance. “It makes a really important statement that you care about older adults, who often feel invisible,” Ms. Hoskins said. “There is a shifting demographic, and we’re going to rely on older people more and more.”
The World Health Organization began recognizing communities as “age friendly” in 2006. “I read about it about a year and a half ago in the AARP [American Association of Retired Persons] magazine,” Ms. Hoskins recalled.
“Then I read a report by New Jersey Future that said Princeton was one of only four towns in New Jersey to score high on their criteria for great places to age. I soon found out that no towns or communities in the state had been awarded the WHO designation.”
Intrigued, Ms. Hoskins approached Mayor Liz Lempert, who was enthusiastic about having Princeton be recognized. They enlisted the help of the Princeton University Volunteer Consulting Initiative, made up of graduate students who provide advice to local organizations. The students came up with a community survey about aging in Princeton last spring. Ms. Hoskins passed along her information to the AARP, which in turn took it for consideration to the WHO.
The designation was announced at the PSRC’s recent fall gala event. In the publication given to those who attended, Mayor Lempert wrote, “As we read down the WHO’s list of recommended actions, we were able to check off item after item as things Princeton already does. It was obvious we should apply, as it is great to be recognized for all the qualities that make Princeton a wonderful and livable community.”
The next step in the process, as laid out by the AARP, is to form a task force, to be made up of “people from government, consumers, and people who serve seniors,” Ms. Hoskins said. The group is to identify areas of accomplishment and areas of need. The designation will be re-evaluated after two years, and again in five years.
“The thing I like about the process is that it sounds like the goal is to give you five years to make this an organic part of the community,” Ms. Hoskins said, “to get it built into the consciousness of the community. It has been an ongoing process to get to this point, and it will continue to be.”