87 percent of adults age 65-plus want to stay in their current home and community as they age.
The 2017 AARP Livable Communities National Conference was an opportunity for elected officials, planning professionals, local leaders and community advocates from throughout the nation to share ideas, best practices and solutions for making towns, cities and communities more livable for people of all ages.
A Complete Street is a street that is inclusive of all users’ needs – no matter their ability, age, or mode of transportation. Complete Streets create more livable communities and increase mobility by promoting safety and easier access for pedestrians, bicyclists, drivers, and transit users.
AARP’s Home Safety Checklist can help you identify and address various hazards around your home. Every year in the United States, nearly one-third of people age-65+ experience a fall. Among older adults, falls are the leading cause of injury deaths and the most common cause of nonfatal injuries and hospital admissions for trauma. More than half of all fall injuries among older people occur inside the home, and an additional 23 percent happen outside, but near the home.
Aaron Murphy, of the website Empowering the Mature Mind, has written a great piece about how re-zoning and creative thinking is needed to restructure our communities to be more age friendly. We often think of Aging in Place as an issue of home modification, but livable communities are also necessary if older adults are going to remain active members of the community. Of course livable communities benefit everyone: young single adults, families with children and older adults alike. Murphy puts forth some ideas for how we might start thinking about radically reshaping the suburban landscape. For instance, what if abandoned big box stores were converted into Senior/Community Centers? What if the vacant parking lots at strip malls were rezoned so that they could be covered in cottage housing surrounding a park or other common space? What if abandoned car dealerships were transformed into accessible mixed-use apartments with commercial space on the ground floor? You can read more about these and other ideas at Empowering the Mature Mind.
Aging in Place: A Toolkit for Local Governments is a guide created by the Atlanta Regional Commission to help local governments plan and prepare for their aging populations. The guide explains the importance of coordinating housing development regulations and healthcare supports so older adults can stay in their homes, and it also investigates quality growth practices and transportation services that allow older adults to get out and participate in the community.
The guide focuses on three issues that are critical to creating communities with successful aging in place:
- HEALTHCARE: Integration of healthcare delivery with housing and planning initiatives
- ENVIRONMENT: Housing and urban design
- PLANNING AND ZONING: Housing stock and location
The toolkit also identifies five key components that need to be included in a community’s approach to aging in place; choice, flexibility, entrepreneurship, mixed generations, and smart growth. The guide provides strategies and examples of how each of these five components can been applied to the areas of healthcare, environment, and planning/zoning. The guide provides suggestions like wellness programs, prevention oriented programs, and a continuum of affordable care. One real-life example that is examined is the SOURCE Demonstration Project, a program in Georgia that offers a variety of long-term health services for older adults who might otherwise find themselves in need of nursing home care.
Finally, the toolkit explores the challenge of coordinating these various goals, and explores how meeting the need for affordable housing, appropriate and safe housing, diverse housing choices, transportation options and supportive services can provide a good starting point for preparing a community for an aging population.
As Amy Levner, AARP’s manager of education on livable communities, explains, “Universally Designed houses and livable communities must be connected. Universally designed houses enhance mobility and quality of life inside the home and livable communities do the same thing outside of the home.” Livable communities coordinate housing, transportation and land use in order to help people access goods, services and social engagement.
Livable communities’ transportation needs are often met by “complete streets” that have been designed to work well for all users – automobile drivers, bicyclists, pedestrians and users of public transportation. This is particularly important for older adults, since about 20 percent of seniors do not drive. Complete streets include things like well-maintained sidewalks, traffic calming practices that encourage cars to move at safe speeds, buffers between pedestrians and cars, frequent and well-marked street crossings, interconnected streets that offer efficient walking routes, raised medians to provide refuge for pedestrian curb ramps, audible as well as visual street crossing signals, bike lanes, trees for shade, places to sit and rest, storefronts and parks abutting the sidewalk instead of empty lots or parking lots and plentiful nighttime lighting.
Of course, complete streets only benefit residents if the community has destinations that people want to visit. Most people will walk 1500 feet (about a quarter of a mile or 1/2 kilometer) to reach shopping or transit. Mixed-use zoning that includes both residential and commercial areas can ensure that a variety of retail, health and education destinations are within walking distance. Livable communities also often have a center where people can gather, whether it’s a main street or a public space. “Placemaking” initiatives can create destinations like parks, farmers markets, and even temporary arts and entertainment events where residents can meet and interact. Those curious about how many amenities are within walking distance of where they live can visit www.walkscore. com to find out how well their neighborhood stacks up.
Livable communities benefit older adults, children and teens, and anyone who wants the option of cheaper, greener and healthier modes of transport. Complete streets are safer for all users, and cut down on both gridlock and pollution. Retail stores benefit from the increase in foot traffic, and communities benefit from the sales tax on locally bought goods. Property values increase $500-$3,000 for every one-point increase in a neighborhood’s walk score. Livable communities can also support healthier and happier residents. A 2009 study revealed that adults living in walkable neighborhoods were at less risk of being obese or overweight. A 2012 study compared polling data on happiness from 10 international cities, and found that “cities that provide easy access to convenient public transportation and to cultural and leisure amenities promote happiness.”
Interested in making your community more livable? Consider organizing a “walking audit” of your community to help residents identify concerns, envision solutions and take action. To learn more about walking audits and livable communities see the resources listed below:
AARP’s Livable Communities Digital Hub
- AARP’s Sidewalk and Street Survey Toolkit
- Congress for the New Urbanism
- FHWA’s Walkability Audits
- NEA’s Our Town Grants
- National Center for Bicycling and Walking
- National Center for Safe Routes to School
- National Complete Streets Organization
- Partners for Livable Communities
- Project for Public Spaces
- Walkable and Livable Community Institute
- Walk Score