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From the Livable Communities Intern: My Grandma's 90th Birthday, 24-Hour TV, and How We Live

My grandma, Helen; father, Michael; and uncle, Rob in their Fort Madison, Iowa home in 1953.

My grandma turned 90 on Sunday, and that morning we headed south to the First Christian Church of Fort Madison, Iowa, where she attended services weekly for decades. During that four-hour drive, we never turned on the radio. It was one of those limited opportunities when I had my grandma to myself, and I was able to be fully present. Her perceptions of how technology has changed in her lifetime got me thinking of the ways in which livable communities can preserve aspects of humanity that at times appear lost.

My grandma shared with me her memories of being a young mother in the 50s, raising two sons, and the importance of strong, female friendships. However, the most thought-provoking part of our conversation came after I asked her about the largest change she has seen in her lifetime. After thinking about it for several minutes, she decided it was television, specifically its social impacts.

I can only image a life without round-the-clock television programming, but my grandma remembers it well. Before TV was a staple of households, she remembers when people relied on each other for sources of entertainment. She said people made house calls, and that friends dropping by unannounced was a common weeknight occurrence.  I got to thinking about the multi-faceted influences responsible for this break down of community; you could blame automobile advancement, urban sprawl, communications technology, or a combination of all. How interesting to think that we allowed human habits to be modified so profoundly by environmental change.

The concept of "livable communities" categorizes aspects in a modern environment to help us consider systems-change in our communities. The eight domains of livable communities include: open spaces and buildings, transportation, housing, respect and inclusion, community health, communication and information, civic participation and empowerment, and social participation. It seems to me that each is attempting to rebuild an aspect of our physical or interpersonal environment in order to facilitate a sense of community; the challenge now is incorporating them into a world that looks much different than when my grandma was my age.

All over the country, cities are trying to do just that. In fact, the Des Moines area is becoming a certified Livable Community through its Age-Friendly City initiative. Learn about livable communities and read reports from cities all over the county on  AARP’s blog. Also, check out the best new thing in Livability: Fact Sheets.

--Claire Richmond is a graduate student pursuing a dual degree in Urban & Regional Planning at Iowa's School of Urban Planning and Community & Behavioral Health at the College of Public Health. Her studies are focused on the built environment's impacts on health, specifically those of aging adults. She currently interns at the AARP Iowa office and assists with the organization's social marketing efforts surrounding the Greater Des Moines Age-Friendly City initiative.

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