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Is This The Boro Park We Know?

The federal government and many  local municipalities have embarked on an ambitious and commendable initiative, reviewing the physical environment so that it becomes more age friendly, especially for us baby boomers. The lead organization on the federal level is the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Here in New York City, the New York Academy of Medicine and the Office of the Mayor have jointly embraced the project under the aegis of Age Friendly New York City. These are independent programs with very similar objectives. Fundamental  components  of  the federal effort include:

1.A definition of “environment” that encompasses more than the familiar is- sues of air pollution, poison and pest control, exposure to ultraviolet radiation and the like. It incorporates social determinants of health-conditions in which people live, learn, work, play.

“By broadening the perspective of health to integrate policy efforts with those related to education, housing, business, transportation, and other areas traditionally outside the health sector,” explains Dr. Garcia, US Department of Health and Human Services, “we can begin to move the country toward environmental justice.

2.The importance of community engagement-emphasizing the necessity of being culturally and linguistically competent to serve all communities.

3.To implement its goal of fostering “environmental justice” the EPA has sponsored a major symposium for the exchange of “state of the science” and mobilized a net- work of advisory committees and councils consisting of professionals and stakeholders to identify and facilitate needed enhancements in our environment.

On the City level as well we find “environment” to include general neighborhood safety, recreation activity in parks and the full range of quality of life factors. We also  find a well organized system of community forums and focused groups designed to provide input on the issues. It is a bottoms up, grass roots approach to service delivery. Explaining its success, Dr. Ruth Finkelstein, New York Academy of Medicine, observes that the project models how to create public/private partnerships to benefit older adults while empowering them. We asked older New Yorkers to tell us what it’s like to walk down their street and shop in their neighborhood, what they enjoy and don’t enjoy about growing older, what changes they would like, and what they hope never changes about New York.

Both programs are admirable holding great promise for the community good, and assuredly have already had a positive impact. But I have some concern.

I recently received a mailing from the federal EPA-Aging Initiative inviting me to order free brochures on such topics as Breathe Easier:    Preventing    Chronic  Obstructive Pulmonary  Disease,  Proper   Planning  for Excessive Heat Events, Diabetes and Environmental Hazards, Women and Environmental Health. These were available in 18 languages, including Armenian, Hindi, Thai. But why not also have the brochures in Farsi/Persian or Hebrew and Yiddish?

The  NYC   Age-Friendly   Project  offers a beautiful 76 page documentation of its work, Toward an Age-Friendly NYC: A Findings Report. Scholarly and informative it’s a pleasure to read. A basic review of the graphics presentation indicates that special effort had been taken to assure representative accommodate of our city’s ethnic   mix. I was genuinely excited. I became engaged with the refreshing approach and was looking forward to some indication of Orthodox Jewish involvement. I saw Boro Park listed as the site of one public forum and said A Hah! Finally!, only to be disappointed when upon further scrutiny it was at the senior center of an ethnic group other than our own.

So I wonder, Why? Why are our needs not being represented by our organizations and leadership?

Demographics highlighted in the last issue’s editorial, “Eskimos, American Indians and the Orthodox Jewish Community,” support this position.

Did I miss something? I would think there is still opportunity to advocate on our behalf. I bring these concerns forth publicly lest we lose that opportunity.

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