The city of Talent has spent nearly 30 years turning its downtown into a thriving community where people can get the amenities and services they need regardless of their age.
It’s a transformation that AARP Oregon hopes to make in other parts of the state through its Livable Communities program.
“It’s kind of fun to be on the front side of this effort,” said Talent Mayor Darby Ayers-Flood, reflecting on the work the city of 6,500 people has accomplished.
Last summer, AARP Oregon kicked off the most recent phase of this initiative by holding 13 public forums to find out what residents like about their communities as well as how to improve them.
The organization recently compiled its findings into a report that it hopes will help state and local officials prepare for a future in which 1 out of 5 Oregonians will be 65 or older by 2025.
In 1991, the Talent City Council formed an urban-renewal agency to improve downtown by building parks, burying power lines, installing light posts and providing grants to business owners to update building facades.
The agency also added bike lanes, sidewalks and bus stops to the area’s key roads.
Ayers-Flood, mayor since 2015, said these early investments—particularly those involving the city transportation infrastructure—drew a steady flow of pedestrian and vehicle traffic to the area. That brought new businesses, homes and residents.
The resulting development boosted the city’s tax revenue and helped pay down bonds used to fund the initial improvements.
The investment in transportation also improved access to services for older adults in nearby housing complexes.
Seeking community feedback
Bandana Shrestha, AARP Oregon’s community engagement director, said transportation issues were one of the most common concerns people mentioned at last summer’s forums.
Some people worried they might have to move if they could no longer drive, Shrestha said. Others continued driving because they didn’t have another way to get around.
“We heard from people who had to make very difficult choices,” she said.
Shrestha added that Oregonians were anxious, too, about access to health care facilities and finding other homes or apartments so they could downsize.
These concerns were magnified in areas where housing prices were increasing and threatened to push people out of the neighborhoods they love.
Shrestha said many thought their voices weren’t being heard and wanted local leaders—who would steer any major community redevelopment effort—to better listen to their concerns.
Ayers-Flood said elected officials must do everything they can to involve their constituents.
The Talent Urban Renewal Agency is governed by a group of residents who make it a point to get as much community feedback as possible.
Even now, the mayor is looking for residents to join a steering committee that will help guide efforts to improve transportation and affordability in other sections of the city.
“We face the same problems that other cities do,” she said.
Learn more about the AARP Livable Communities initiative at aarp.org/livable.
Mac McLean is a writer living in Bend.