AARP Livable Communities: Great Places for All Ages
AARP Livable Communities work supports the efforts of communities to become Great Places for ALL Ages. We believe that communities should provide such features as safe, walkable streets, better housing and transportation options, access to key services, and opportunities for residents to participate in community activities. Well-designed, livable communities promote better health and sustain economic growth. And they make for happier, healthier residents – of all ages.
To empower communities across the country to better respond to the needs of their residents, AARP targets local officials, policy makers, citizen activists and people 50+ in our work across advocacy, policy, education and influence in key livable communities issue areas: housing, mobility / transportation, land use and planning, and community design. Livable communities work generally takes place at the local level, where many decisions are made about community design, development, and infrastructure. Thirty-six AARP state offices will advance our work in this area in 2013.
Our key initiatives include Complete Streets advocacy, community engagement workshops, the AARP Age-Friendly Communities network, and efforts to promote universal design. In addition, we recently launched our AARP Livable Communities Resource Hub (www.aarp.org/livable), a go-to resource for local leaders for critical information on livable communities.
Complete Streets Advocacy
Because we believe that our roads should be built for all users, AARP is a strong Complete Streets advocate. Complete Streets is a transportation policy initiative that requires states and municipalities to plan for users of all ages and abilities in road design. It is currently a hot topic in the transportation world and among community planners because it shifts the way we think about our roads from ways to support cars to a more holistic vision that supports all modes of travel. From AARP’s perspective, Complete Streets is a key strategy to make streets and sidewalks safer for older drivers and pedestrians and to expand mobility options for those who cannot drive. Because of this, Complete Streets has emerged as our primary transportation policy initiative. Our advocacy efforts in this area span across the local, state, and federal levels.
To support this work, we have developed a robust set of materials to develop Complete Streets campaigns. In addition, we have created a model for elevating this policy issue that involves the following steps: conducting surveys to understand the behavior and additional transportation needs within the community; using these assessments to build the case for change; building diverse coalitions across a variety of stakeholder groups to support legislation; and then advocating for legislation. This model of citizen and stakeholder engagement to support advocacy has proven highly successful in generating volunteers and broadening our connections to non-traditional partners. In New York last year, 2000 AARP volunteers surveyed 500 intersections on one week, resulting in upgrades to roadways all across the state.
Community Engagement Workshops
We also work to promote stakeholder-driven change through our community engagement workshops with nationally recognized “town-making” experts such as Dan Burden of the Walkable and Livable Communities Institute. These workshops, which revolve around walking audits of communities, have been a powerful tool to engage stakeholders in identifying how they would like to improve the livability of their community. They typically result in a community that feels empowered to make the changes they have identified. Our state offices then help the community follow through with the implementation of the recommendations coming out of the workshop. As a result, communities in Vermont, Georgia, and Tennessee are currently implementing recommendations such as widening sidewalks, redesigning roads, and revitalizing downtown areas.
AARP’s Network of Age Friendly Communities
In April, 2012, we launched the AARP Network of Age Friendly Communities, a program affiliated with the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Global Network of Age-Friendly Cities and Communities. Created by the WHO in 2006 to prepare cities for their rapidly aging populations, the program encourages leaders to improve the quality of life in their communities in eight key domains that closely align with AARP’s livable communities priorities: transportation, housing, social participation, respect & inclusion, community support & health services, civic participation & employment, communication & information, as well as outdoor spaces. The program currently has over 500 participating communities around the world.
The Age-Friendly Communities program provides a framework for AARP to engage local officials and other stakeholders in the discussion about how to prepare for an aging population. In participating states, AARP’s role is therefore to identify appropriate communities and facilitate their application to join the Network.
There are currently eight states with communities in the AARP Age-Friendly Network: New York, NY (and several other NY communities); Philadelphia, PA; Washington, DC; Macon, GA; Des Moines, IA; Wichita, KS; Austin, TX; and Portland, OR. In 2013, Rhode Island, Colorado, Georgia, Vermont, Michigan and Hawaii all expect to enroll additional communities in the Network.
AARP works to promote awareness and acceptance of universal design — an approach to product, household, and home design that emphasizes ease of use and accessibility for all, regardless of an individual’s physical ability, strength, or age.
Our universal design work has typically taken three paths: state and local advocacy efforts to introduce universal design and related ordinances and influence the permitting process; work with influencers such as the building industry to encourage adoption of good design practices; and consumer education via programs such as our popular AARP Home Fit Workshops to teach people about home safety, design and resources.
In research we learned that the phrase “universal design” is neither well understood nor particularly descriptive, and can even have negative connotations. Thus, we are working with a group of housing experts to rename the principles of universal design, “Better Living Design” or BLD. This naming also allows for messaging from both a positive and aspirational framework. This is particularly important as we know people’s homes are not aging as well as they are, and many need upgrades.
AARP Livable Communities Resource Hub
In 2012, we launched the AARP Livable Communities Resource Hub, a central repository of critical information and resources on livable communities for local officials, policymakers and citizen activists. Located at www.aarp.org/livable, this site features 1,000+ best practice case studies, planning documents from states and communities, advocacy resources (including model legislation), and guidance on how to implement and fund local initiatives.
The goal in creating the Hub was to create an authoritative go-to livable communities resource for busy leaders by consolidating relevant information from a wide range of sources. A central repository of this kind did not exist before and was something that many had identified as a need in the field.
The site has been organized into three main buckets of information to allow readers with varying degrees of knowledge or engagement on livable communities to benefit from the resources: Learn, Plan, and Act. A user who is new to livable communities can start with background information in the Learn section. Someone who is more advanced can access information on how to plan or implement change in their community in the Plan and Act sections.
Wrap-up summaries for each resource allow readers to review key points and how-to-use information before they decide whether to access the full document. In addition, leaders and activists who have succeeded in making their community more livable are invited to share their experience through the site’s Community Story feature. Additional interactive features are under development.
AARP Public Policy Institute – Evidence-Based Policy Analysis and Solutions
The work of AARP’s Public Policy Institute (PPI) guides our livable communities agenda by developing evidence-based policy analysis and solutions. PPI examines critical public policy issues that affect the ability of people to successfully age in their homes and communities, regardless of their level of ability. This is accomplished by developing policy options that enhance community livability through housing and mobility options. The institute convenes key stakeholders and policy experts to engage in thoughtful discussions that can inform policymakers, researchers, and program administrators, as well as AARP’s National Policy Council and Board of Directors, who establish AARP policy priorities. Specific research focuses on complete streets, transit-oriented development, and analysis of state livability policy and practices. PPI currently is developing a “livability index” that can serve as a measurement tool for our efforts, and as a way for citizens to gauge their own communities’ readiness and appeal.
Maine State Office Activity
The Maine AARP state office is working to advance livable communities at the state and local level:
- Advocated for a Complete Streets advisory committee in 2013 Legislative Session.
- Working with local stakeholders in many communities to engage their city and town leadership in livable communities issues and connecting them to local resources.
- Working with the John T. Gorman Foundation to support the impact area of Aging in Place.
Photo Credit: Wiser Living Magazine