Ideas for New York City

Metropolitan Research Initiative (MRI): Part 2

MRI’s latest project focuses on New York City’s aging population, a demographic comprised both of retiring baby boomers and recent immigrants who have settled in for the long haul. Between 2000 and 2030, it is projected that the number of city residents over the age of 65 will increase by nearly 45 percent to a total of 1.35 million. The city’s aging will then comprise 15 percent of its total population, placing it in the company of cities such as London (12 percent), Paris (17 percent) and Beijing (16 percent). Geographically, the 65-plus population can be characterized by their propensity towards aging-in-place. For reasons of preference, dignity, and/or a financial inability to leave their homes, the aging represent something of a ‘captive market’ that cannot simply be displaced or conveniently consolidated into dense enclaves that arguably might better serve their needs. With its relatively even distribution throughout the city, the footprint of New York’s aging population is diffuse and difficult to define, effectively turning questions of policy into an issue of spatial organization. This is where architects and urban planners can bring their skills to the table.

Towards these ends, C-Lab produced a series of videos in conjunction with the Festival of Ideas for the New City that depict low-cost, high-impact means for making New York a more age-friendly city. These “policy briefs” (originally featured on the FINC blog and conceived as a supplement to our policy study on NYC’s aging population in the latest issue of Volume) begin to make a case that the means for age-friendly interventions are already latent within the fabric of our city. Innovation is always great, but a smart reconfiguration of the urban environment can often produce results that are every bit as promising.


Explores the multivarious use of parks and challenges traditional perceptions of the elderly as a demographic.


A look at how small interventions can be employed throughout the city to facilitate the timing of various modes of transportation.


Follows the formal and organizational evolution of our streetscapes and proposes new ways to further enable the potential of our most vibrant surfaces.


Street, sidewalk, residential and commercial noise are consistently ranked as the top complaints New York City residents log into the city’s 311 service hotline. Subway noise, however, remains conspicuously absent, even though its long-term effects stretch far beyond the realm of momentary annoyance. Noise levels in a subway car can reach 98 decibels, while noise on a platform can exceed 102 decibels.1 Continuous exposure to noise levels above the 85 dB threshold or only 15 minutes of exposure to 100 dB levels can induce permanent hearing loss. Headaches, hypertension, ischemic heart disease and sleep disturbance could also follow. New York’s subway riders (an average of 5.1 million riders per weekday) contribute to the sustainability of our city, reducing traffic congestion and carbon emissions, yet they are essentially held captive to an aural assault that seriously threatens their long-term health.

The most visible product of recent subway fare increases are digital displays indicating estimated train arrival times. While these displays do not actually improve subway service, studies of similar interventions in other metro systems have shown that riders’ perceived wait times decrease by as much as 1.3 minutes, which could lead to a two percent increase in ridership.2 That kind of bang-for-your-buck mentality could also be applied to the very concrete issue of noise reduction. Small interventions such as noise-absorbent textile panels could be installed in key stations and on the ceilings of subway cars. Vegetation, too, could serve a similar function. A more healthy, not to mention pleasant, subway experience could increase ridership/revenue and further push the city in a more sustainable direction; small design moves with urban-scale implications.

1. Richard Neitzel, MS, Robyn R.M. Gershon, DrPH, MHS, Marina Zeltser, BS, Allison Canton, BA, and Muhammad Akram, PhD, “Noise Levels Associated with New York City’s Mass Transit Systems,” American Journal of Public Health, August 2009, Vol 99, No. 8, 1393-1399.
2. Katrin Dziekan and Arjan Vermeulen, “Psychological Effects of and Design Preferences for Real-Time Information Displays,” Journal of PublicTransportation, 2006, Volume 9, No. 1.























Metropolitan Research Initiative