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Special Feature: Building Communities for All Ages

Building Communities for All Ages

On January 1, 2011 the first baby boomers began turning 65. This marked the beginning of the greatest demographic shift in our nation’s history.  Here in Maine, 50 people are turning 65 every day.  Clearly the massive demographic shift has implications for every generation and will profoundly affect governments, businesses, individuals and local communities.  The question is whether cities and towns will be able to meet their residents’ needs as they age.

In order to meet the demands - and tackle the challenges - of our aging society, we know that we will need to make adjustments to infrastructure and services.  These changes will make our communities livable for not one, but for ALL generations.  And this is not an ‘old versus young’ issue.  Residents of all ages benefit from safer, barrier-free buildings and streets.  A safe crosswalk for a senior is a safe crosswalk for a mom and her kid.  The rise of medi-clinics means that more people will have closer proximity to health care options.  And everyone benefits from more convenient access to services, local businesses and green spaces.

One initiative that AARP is supporting to address these issues is the World Health Organization (WHO) Global Network of Age-Friendly Cities and Communities.  The initiative is aimed at encouraging communities to prepare for rapid aging through factors that influence the well-being of older adults nationwide.  As the U.S. population ages and as people stay healthy and active longer, communities must adapt to the needs of changing demographics in order to serve the interests of their residents and sustain economic and social vitality.  AARP and the WHO are working together with communities across the U.S. to encourage and promote age-friendly planning and policies.  An “Age-Friendly Community” entails an inclusive and accessible urban or suburban environment that encourages active and healthy aging.

The WHO maintains eight broad domains that help influence the health and quality of life of older people.

  1. Outdoor spaces and buildings—accessibility to and availability of recreational facilities.
  2. Transportation—safe and affordable modes of private and public transportation.
  3. Housing—housing options for older residents; aging in place; and other home modification programs.
  4. Social participation—opportunities for older residents to participate in social and civic engagement with their peers and younger people.
  5. Respect and social inclusion—programs to support and promote ethnic and cultural diversity, along with programs to encourage multigenerational interactions.
  6. Civic participation and employment—promotion of paid work and volunteer activities for older residents.
  7. Communication and information—promotion of and access to the use of technology to keep older residents connected to their community, friends and family.
  8. Community support and health services—access to homecare services, clinics, and programs to promote wellness and active aging.


The Network was created to serve as a catalyst to educate, encourage, promote and recognize improvements that are needed to better support residents of all ages.

As we enter a time of profound and permanent change to the demographic composition of America, communities have an opportunity take advantage of this shift.  Many communities have already made tremendous progress including communities in Maine. Mayor Brennan is leading efforts right here in Portland.

If you are interested in learning more about livable communities you can go to or for information and to find local resources.  If you want to get involved locally in making your community more age-friendly, I’d love to hear from you at


Photo: Courtesy of Wiser Living

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