As far as Katie White is concerned, last week's major step in improving Columbus for its older residents could not have gone better.

As far as Katie White is concerned, last week's major step in improving Columbus for its older residents could not have gone better.

White is manager of the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission's Age Friendly Columbus project, which got underway in February. Its five-year mission is to accomplish just what the name implies: Make the city more accommodating for senior citizens, especially those who wish to stay in their homes.

Central Ohio's population of people age 65 and older is expected to double over the next 35 years, MORPC officials have said.

The public portion of Age Friendly Columbus began in early September when surveys were sent out to 1,500 randomly selected city residents 50 and older.

The next step in the process took place Oct. 11 when 19 residents of Clintonville's Beechwold neighborhood gathered at the Whetstone branch of the Columbus Metropolitan Library. This first focus group, to be followed later this month by another one in the Linden area and in the spring on the Hilltop and the Near East Side, is intended to provide insight on what's good and not so good about those neighborhoods from the perspective of older residents.

"I feel very energized and excited," White said the day after the initial focus-group session. "I had a picture in my mind how I thought it would go, and it was even better.

"I felt like the conversation was really good and people stayed with what we wanted to get out of it. I thought it was really successful."

"I just think we all need to be thinking about this," said Libby Wetherholt, chairwoman of the Clintonville Area Commission and a member of an Age Friendly Columbus advisory committee, during the gathering at the library.

Amelia Costanzo, a principal planner with MORPC, told the group its input will help with mapping out a "walk audit" of the Beechwold area, scheduled from 1 to 3 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 25. This is to determine where older residents need and want to go in their neighborhood and how they get there, she said.

"We're not closing our minds to any options," Costanzo said.

When asked how they got around, most of the 19 participants, which included only two men, said they drive, but Norma Conrad realizes that won't always be the case.

"The time is coming," she said. "I'm 84 and right now, my reactions are sharp. I understand things. I don't know when the time will come, and I hope that I'm smart enough to surrender my keys."

Wetherholt said she would like to take COTA buses more often to get around town, but doesn't because it "takes four times as long" as using her car.

"If you're not going downtown, it's not worth it," she said.

"What's keeping you from walking or riding a bike right now?" White asked the group.

One woman said she would walk more if she knew where there were benches to take a break when her legs get tired, but another said her home is "not close enough to anything."

Carl White, 74, and no relation to the project manager, said he does ride his bike and walk in the area, even where there are no sidewalks -- but only when the weather allows.

"In the wintertime, that's life-threatening, almost, to walk in the streets," he said.

While the four focus groups are expected to concentrate their attention on the specific neighborhoods in which they are meeting, White said the goal of Age Friendly Columbus is to identify potential policy changes that could help older residents throughout the city be more comfortable getting around where they reside.

"I'm going to guess we'll see some similarities," White said. "We do want to be able to home in on neighborhood needs, but I do think there will be some overarching themes that are common."