weekly blog--one for the ages
In a ceremony earlier this week, the city where I live (Newton) was officially designated an age-friendly community by the World Health Organization and AARP, which sponsor the initiative. Newton joins eight municipalities across Massachusetts and 160 nationwide. There are about 20 countries participating in the program. The focus is to create communities that foster an environment that is friendly to all age groups.
This is accomplished by working through action steps centered on eight ‘pillars’: housing, transportation, communication, community support, outdoor spaces and buildings, social inclusion, social participation, and civic participation and employment. To fit its demographic, Newton added two more to the list: education, and arts and culture.
The nearby Town of Brookline was the first Massachusetts community to earn the designation. Among the initiatives undertaken in the aftermath of several resident ‘listening’ sessions: the creation of a bathroom map so people know where to go, obtaining a grant so that the fire department can install smoke and carbon monoxide detectors in the homes of seniors, and creating work stipends for renters to help reduce living costs (many municipalities already offer this benefit to home owners).
Iowa City, the “best small metro city” on the Milken Institute’s 2014 Best Places for Successful Aging list, offers builders bonuses for new construction aimed at seniors, tries to locate services near where residents live, recently approved Iowa’s first inter-generational co-housing project, provides door-to-door transit service for the disabled, and has a dedicated senior center commission advising the city on senior issues.
The irony is that Iowa City is home to the University of Iowa and only eight percent of its residents are aged 65 and older. Newton's 65+ group is projected to reach 40 percent of the population within a decade or two.
However, when all is said and done, the good news is that most of the things old people need are good for the rest of the community. The not so good news is that more and more people want to age in place, which can alter a community’s demographic, and make it more difficult for municipal leaders to fund programs aimed at attracting younger people and their families.