By Ford Burkhart
Before the sun peeks over Mingus Mountain, Ron Brinkman begins a five-mile stroll on his favorite multiuse path in northern Arizona. Neighbors young and old run by or pass him on bicycles.
“The air is cool and clean, just right for morning walks,” said Brinkman, 70, a former oil company employee.
As chair of AARP Yavapai Volunteers in the county that includes Prescott, Brinkman supported the effort to create the pathways in his town, Prescott Valley. It’s an example of a growing nationwide drive to make communities livable for all ages and to help older citizens enjoy life while remaining in long-established homes.
The efforts range from modest to a super-size project in Phoenix that will help thousands of older citizens get around, day and night, through the sprawling city. In all this activity, two words echo: connectivity and livability.
Several Arizona cities, including Casa Grande and Tempe, are exploring joining the AARP Network of Age-Friendly Communities.
So far, Tucson and Phoenix have taken the plunge to join the AARP network, signifying a commitment to improve in areas such as transit for older people and the disabled, use of outdoor space and affordable, accessible housing. Tucson’s ELDER Alliance, with 56 organizations including AARP Arizona, is leading the effort in that city.
The AARP network, affiliated with the World Health Organization’s Global Network of Age-friendly Cities and Communities, was started in 2012 to help cities prepare for the twin trends of aging and urbanization.
In Phoenix, AARP Arizona pushed for a $31.5 billion package, called MovePHX, that will upgrade most forms of public transportation. The ballot issue, which raises the sales tax for transit over 35 years, was approved by 55 percent of voters in August 2015.
Goals of the measure, called Prop. 104, include expanded bus hours and safer streets and sidewalks to enhance walkability in neighborhoods.
Turnout for the election was only 20 percent, but “77 percent of the voters [who participated] were 50 and older. So it was our AARP members who decided that election,” said AARP state director Dana Marie Kennedy.
Expanded transit services
“It’s kind of exciting to see how our efforts have improved bus routes and Dial-a-Ride services,” Kennedy said.
Jean Moriki, 52, a former insurance broker from Chicago who has used a wheelchair since a stroke 20 years ago, is thrilled with the changes. “I can’t wait until bus and light rail schedules are synchronized,” she said. “I won’t be afraid of going out late or on weekends and getting stranded.”
Mark Hamblin, 60, a Dial-a-Rider in Phoenix, uses that service to take a $4 minibus ride to work at the Arizona Department of Revenue. Hamblin, blind since 1988, said, “At Safeway, the drivers even carry my groceries to the van.”
For $65 a month, Dial-a-Ride picks him up at 6:15 a.m., and again from work at 5 p.m. Since MovePHX pased, “they’ve made it more flexible,” Hamblin said. “Now I can go to my cousin’s house in Gilbert without a transfer.”
Bus route improvements delight Toni Solano, 57. The minibus takes her from her central Phoenix apartment to doctor appointments and major stores. Before the MovePHX service expansions, she missed part of a Johnny Mathis concert and a Phoenix Suns basketball game to catch the last bus.
“Now I get home without worrying about being stuck at night,” said Solano, a retired certified nursing assistant.
AARP is also working with the Maricopa Association of Governments to create a regional age-friendly network, which would pool resources to help residents 60 and older thrive in their communities.
Tempe already has joined the Dementia Friendly America initiative, now in 25 states.
For more information about the AARP Network of Age-Friendly Communities, go to aarp.org/age friendly.
Ford Burkhart, a retired New York Times editor, lives in Tucson.