By Elaine Friesen-Strang
On November 12, 2014, the Portland City Council received a progress report on what has transpired in our community since adopting a detailed action plan developed by the Age-Friendly Advisory Council. Following brief discussion, Mayor Charlie Hales and council members voted to pledge their continued support of the Plan, extending efforts to make Portland a more livable community for people of all ages. In his opening comments, Mayor Hales highlighted the need for walkable neighborhoods, accessible and affordable housing, and opportunities to utilize the talents and wisdom of older adults. He said "We're good, but we're not as good as we need to be. Encourage us...call us to make connections."
AARP Oregon had a chance to ask Mayor Hales a few questions about Portland’s membership in the Global Network and his personal aspirations for our city.
I n June 2010, Portland became one of the first American cities to join the World Health Organization Global Network of Age Friendly Cities and Communities. Why is this important for our city?
Of course we’re among the first American cities to join! The building blocks (literally) for this go back to the founding of downtown Portland, with its very-short street blocks and with parks in easy walking distance. Portland has been a walkable city for well over a century.
Add to that the land-use decisions of the 20th century, such as an Urban Growth Boundary that limits our ability to expand outward (that’s true for all of Oregon, not just Portland). Plus we’ve embraced public transit with buses, light rail trains and street cars.
Plus we have such a vibrant Parks and Recreation system. So being an age-friendly city is in our DNA.
As Mayor of Portland, what are your aspirations in implementing the Age Friendly Plan? What do you hope to accomplish?
I have long believed the fairness has to be the North Star that guides our policies. We love so many things about Portland, but we feel they should be available for everyone in Portland, not just for some. The things we love about this town, we want everyone to share. And that includes older residents.
The National Conference on State Legislators and the AARP Public Policy Institute recently released their research showing that 90% of people over the age of 65 want to stay in their home as long as possible. What do you see are the challenges in creating a city where people can age in place and what are the new conditions that could increase this possibility?
One way to make that a more likely scenario is by embracing what we often call “complete neighborhoods.”
A complete neighborhood is one in which you can easily get to your job or your local school; to the park or at least a walkway; to the grocery store and other shopping. Complete neighborhoods have well-maintained streets and sidewalks. Complete neighborhoods feel safe.
I talk a lot about “placemaking” and this is what I mean. When asked about Portland being a world-class city, my response is: I want world-class neighborhoods.
But this shouldn’t be true only for a few neighborhoods. Our goal is that every Portlander share in the things we love about Portland. So we are focusing on the neighborhoods that need attention: Martin Luther King Jr., Old Town/China Town, Lents, Gateway, etc. Again, it’s all about fairness and equity.
Stereotypes of Portland typically refer to attributes and trends of a younger demographic. Yet the increase of Portland's older residents is projected to increase dramatically by 2030. How do you see our aging population fitting within the Portland culture? What are the contributions and impact older adults can have on our community?
I think that many of the things people love about Portland don’t change much as they get older. It’s lovely. It’s walkable. People are friendly and laid back. The arts scene and the food scene are there for Portlanders regardless of age.
But it’s also a place where residents can and do have a major impact on their community. Other mayors are amazed at how connected our residents are. We have land-use hearings that draw scores of people who are passionate and well-versed in about land-use policy! That’s rare in most places but common in Portland. And, to be honest, it’s quite often our older Portlander who gets involved at that level.
Then, there are the physical activities. When you get that first AARP card in the mail, maybe you’re no longer snow-boarding down Mount Hood or racing in a dragon boat. Maybe you’re hiking amid wildflowers in Washington Park or kayaking on the Willamette Slough, instead. We have a world-famous parks and recreation system, and it’s only getting better. Access to nature definitely is a draw for our older residents.
In 2011, the City of Portland created the Office of Equity and Human Rights. Are there specific issues this office has identified for older adults and what is being done to address those needs?
The creation of the office was informed by a community mandate to focus on racial equity and equity for people with disabilities. But removing barriers to communities of color and to people with disabilities has residual positive impacts on other underrepresented communities, as well.
Since coming to office, I have shifted the functions of the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) Title II and Civil Rights Act Title VI functions to the Office of Equity and Human Rights (OEHR).
OEHR continues work on the resolution making Portland a Model Employer of People with Disability.
- Resulting from partnership with its Commission on Disability, all videos posted to City websites must be captioned.
- A massive public outreach campaign was held earlier this year to solicit community input on the ADA Title II Transition Plan, which will guide the City in making its facilities, services, and programs accessible to all.
The City’s Civil Rights Title VI function is more visible and easier to access under the umbrella of OEHR. The Title VI program offers guidance, fields complaints, and helps ensure that no person shall be denied the benefits of or be subjected to discrimination in any City program, service, or activity on the grounds of race, religion, color, national origin, English proficiency, sex, age, disability, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, or source of income. The City of Portland also requires its contractors and grantees to comply with this policy.
Life Reimagined is a movement that encourages us to discover new possibilities as we face mid-life transitions. When the time comes for you to explore new directions, or consider "what's next?", what are your ideas for imagining the next chapter of your life?
Nancy and I postponed a lot of very ambitious travel plans when I ran for office. We will turn them from plans to action. Or, as Nancy says, “Buy sunscreen!”
Welcome to Livable Oregon.
What makes a community livable? What do neighborhoods need to help people of all ages live active, engaged lives? Livable Oregon explores the features of age-friendly communities, the people who help create them, and what we can do to make our neighborhoods in Oregon a great place for everyone.
This blog takes its lead from the AARP Livable Communities Initiative which seeks to improve the quality of life for older adults by promoting the development of safe, accessible, and vibrant environments. AARP Livable Communities policies address issues such as land use, housing, and transportation which are vital to developing communities that facilitate aging in place.
About our lead blogger:
My name is Elaine Friesen-Strang. I understand the need for lifelong, livable communities as a mother who raised two children, a daughter who helped care for her father, a professional guardian who served adults with developmental disabilities, and a woman who is experiencing the mixed blessings of aging. Volunteering for AARP empowers me to help make my neighborhood and city a more livable, sustainable place for people of all ages.