Boston initiative aims to create an age-friendly city with help from local businesses

BOSTON — As Boston's population of older adults continues to grow, a new initiative is helping train businesses on small changes they can make to create more inclusive spaces for residents.

The city of Boston is rolling out a new program, Age-Friendly Boston, that they hope will reduce some of that anxiety.

Businesses get a special certificate by completing a training program and making some changes on-site.

Recreo Coffee and Roasterie, on Centre Street in West Roxbury, is one of the first business to earn this distinction. Owner Miriam Morales' 80-year-old father inspired her to participate. "My coffee shop -- I wanted it to be a coffee shop that’s a community coffee shop."

Changes at the shop include greater accessibility around tables, making sure products are easy to reach and increasing the font size on the menu.

Morales says she has many "faithful customers" who are older, and she wants them to feel welcome.

This initiative comes as the population of older Bostonians is growing. In 2010, there were 88,000 people 60 years of age or older. That number now stands at 105,000.

Andrea Burns, director of the Age-Friendly Boston project, said the program "really mirrors world-wide trends which show a rapid urbanization of the population, as well as the rapid aging of the population."

Many of the changes businesses implement are either low or no-cost items. "I think this is really about a transformation of the way we view aging and really looking at making these changes as beneficial to the people of every age group," Burns said.

Parkway Realty also earned a certificate from the city. Realtor Sharon Foley is glad she went through the program and thinks other businesses should give it a try. "I would say come aboard, help them out because people need this. People need help. The older generation -- there’s a lot of them now.”

While this is a service to help older residents, it can bring peace of mind to the children of aging parents who want to be independent.

The program also teaches business owners how to interact with people who have dementia, a segment of the population that’s expected to increase 25 percent by 2025.

The city ultimately hopes to roll the initiative out across all neighborhoods; Next up is the Hyde Jackson Square area in Jamaica Plain.