Most of us take our mobility for granted. We grab our keys and head out to work, buy groceries, and shuttle our kids to movies and soccer practice—all without a second thought. But for the one-third of Americans who don’t drive and many others who lack access to a working vehicle, transportation options don’t come easy—especially in rural America, where transportation has long been a seemingly intractable problem.
The technology revolution is showing potential to help solve that problem and enable more Americans to take part in the economic and social lives of their communities. One new and promising service is Liberty.
The Robinson family at a neighbor’s dairy farm
21st Century Model Meets Rural America
Liberty has been described as the Uber for rural America, since it connects riders to drivers through a mobile app similar to those used by Lyft and Uber. But to founder and CEO Valerie Lefler, “Liberty is about more than just giving rides. It’s about providing Mobility as a Service.”
The company engages local partners to identify a community’s transportation gaps and then works to fill them. Liberty charges customers $1.10 to book and $1 dollar per mile on average. In addition to the app, customers can schedule rides through Liberty’s call center. Liberty uses area-specific mobility managers who provide a direct line of communication to customers and also work to build partnerships in the community.
Just launched in 2016, Liberty’s rural strategy has already brought it to three states (Nebraska, Ohio, and South Dakota), with seven total expected by year’s end. Applications to bring service to more than 60 counties in 2018 could mean the company will be operating in 16 states by the end of next year.
Target Market Typified
Yankton, S.D., (county population 22,616) epitomizes rural transportation challenges. Buses require a 24-hour advance reservation and only operate weekdays 7:30 to 4:30, and taxicab supply doesn’t meet demand.
The city recently was able to secure a $25,000 grant from the local economic development corporation to bring Liberty to Yankton County. The Mayor took an inaugural ride on June 30.
“They are not looking to own the market, but fill gaps in the service,” said City Commissioner Nathan Johnson, who was instrumental in bringing Liberty to town.
Beth Robinson was one of Liberty’s first customers. Robinson is a mother of three children and a family caregiver for her husband, Chris, who has a terminal heart defect and uses a wheelchair part-time. Since the onset of Chris’ illness in 2010, Beth’s caregiving responsibilities have prevented her from working outside the home. The family relies almost exclusively on Chris’ disability income.
Locating rental housing that was both affordable and accessible in town proved challenging. They rented a five bedroom farmhouse outside town at about half the price of a three bedroom apartment in Yankton. But soon after moving, their vehicle broke down. It’s been out of service ever since.
Then Beth discovered Liberty. Chris, after catching an accessible bus for the 17-mile journey into town, was unable to schedule his return trip. Liberty does not yet have access to accessible vehicles in Yankton, but the area manager and her husband, a liberty driver, came through. They lifted the 150-pound wheelchair into the back of a small SUV and got Chris safely home, groceries and all.
“That had us for customers for life after that,” said Beth.
Since then, the family has taken 6-7 Liberty trips—to buy groceries, check out books from the library, and get her kids to a summer cooking class.
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Whether innovative companies such as Liberty will be able to survive in resource-constrained rural markets and whether they can complement, rather than compete with, existing public transportation are open questions. To enter a market, such services will likely need start-up funds and local partners who can help subsidize trips for those unable to pay the full cost of a ride. But the enthusiasm communities have shown for this service gives hope that a generations-old problem for rural America just might have a solution. Such issues and solutions will be explored in more detail in future blog posts.
About the author: Jana Lynott is a senior strategic policy adviser with the AARP Public Policy Institute, where she manages the AARP transportation research agenda. As a land use and transportation planner, she brings practical expertise to the research field.
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New affordable housing development near Rhode Island Avenue Metro Station.
Many perceive Washington, DC as being a livable community. It has plenty of shops, interesting neighborhoods, fun destinations, lively streets, and transit options.
Yet is the nation’s capital truly livable? A livable community is livable for people of all ages. Shops should include stores with healthy food choices and pharmacies, while interesting neighborhoods mean housing for diverse household types. Fun destinations should feature not just costly options, but recreation centers, libraries, and parks. Lively streets should be safe for pedestrians, bikes, and cars.
A look at the city’s livability status and efforts going forward highlight the kinds of successes and challenges for many cities across the country.
Top 10 Success
Fortunately, the nation’s capital does boast many positive livability features. Washington ranks in the top 10 livable large cities, according to AARP’s Livability Index: Great Neighborhoods for All Ages. The Index helps communities determine how well they meet the needs of residents across their lifespan. Livability attributes benefiting older residents typically benefit younger ones as well.
The Index measures indicators across seven categories: health, environment (air and water quality), social and civic engagement; accessible and affordable housing; transportation; supportive services; and economic and educational opportunity. In our latest update, the District receives a livability score of 59 –higher than the average of 50, scoring best in engagement, transportation, and neighborhood.
Eyeing Livability 2.0
DC, like all communities no matter how successful, still has work to do. As the Index shows, the nation’s capital faces challenges in features related to the environment and to opportunity, and it also is working to meet the needs of its residents as they age. As a member of the AARP Network of Age-Friendly Communities, the District is making livability a top priority. The District’s age-friendly action plan, based on community assessment and input, addresses affordable housing, social isolation, and neighborhood safety. A recent progress report highlights achievements such as an intergenerational housing complex, an expansion of affordable units targeting very-low income residents, and a partnership to obtain transportation for older adult residents.
Yet success often brings challenges. Features that make cities more livable and attractive can push housing demand and prices higher. As a result, retaining and building affordable housing, especially in popular urban areas, become increasingly difficult. Sure enough, the Index shows Washington struggling with high housing-related costs and a lower-than-average rate of accessible homes for people with limited mobility. Washington is not alone in grappling with how to ensure that everyone has a place to live, for this is happening across the country.
The District is addressing its affordability and housing challenges through strategies such as low-income housing tax credits, inclusionary zoning, and funding for services for homeless families. In 2016, the city committed $100 million to its Housing Production Trust Fund. The investment will fund 12 new developments including a project consisting of units specifically slated for older adults. Other new and renovated housing units add more affordable options. Many such units are close to public transportation, neighborhood amenities, and social services. Additionally, the city helps older adults and people with disabilities renovate homes with features that make them safer. These policies all help residents to remain in their communities as prices rise.
A Vision Requiring Collaboration
Meanwhile, the work continues in many communities. As DC shows, achieving greater livability for everyone requires a strong collaboration among residents, businesses, agencies, local organizations, and developers. Partners can provide key data, add their perspectives, and share expertise—ultimately resulting in effective and innovative solutions that improve communities and address challenges.
Community services and amenities along Rhode Island Avenue and 12th St. NE.
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Shannon Guzman is a policy research senior analyst with the AARP Public Policy Institute, where she works on housing, transportation and land-use issues. Shannon focuses on policies and programs that create livable communities for people of all ages. For more information about livable communities visit, www.aarp.org/livable. Photo: DFinney
The deadline is June 30, 2017!
Watch the video below and then visit AARP.org/CommunityChallenge to learn more.
By Rodney Harrell and Stephanie K. Firestone
The thousands of community planners who will come together this May at the American Planning Association’s (APA) National Planning Conference are increasingly aware of a demographic trend: nearly 20 percent of the US population will be over age 65 by 2030.
Translation: Planners need to get together with aging network professionals and talk!
Why? While many aging network professionals are in the business of designing plans with individuals to help them to thrive in their homes and communities for as long as possible; planners, meanwhile, envision and bring form to livable communities.
The conversation, in fact, has already begun. An in-depth discussion of this kind took place in March through a half-day Livable Communities Summit at the American Society on Aging’s (ASA) annual conference in Chicago. AARP sponsored this first-ever joint event between the ASA and the APA, where over 250 professionals from both sectors explored areas of overlap and discussed how to collaborate better moving forward.
Participants discussed a number of tools, including:
The summit also engaged participants in a survey on these emerging cross-sector relationships (a follow-up survey and results will be publicly shared at a later date) and presented case studies from a variety of community types across the country where planning and aging practitioners are increasingly intertwining disciplines. Summit organizers were even intentional regarding seating arrangements, mixing planners and aging professionals together to ensure dynamic exchange between those with diverse perspectives.
Participants discussed issues and opportunities that impact many communities:
- the overlap between the work of Area Agencies on Aging and planning & community development;
- options for creating social interaction in public spaces;
- the multiple intersections of zoning and architecture, community space and retrofitting homes;
- exploring housing options with nearby universities/colleges;
- creating ways to engage non-traditional partners;
- making the economic case for livable communities;
- planners working with older adults in meaningful ways;
- intergenerational solutions;
- advocacy training;
- how to approach the intersection of livable communities and the aging population when local government has no interest or awareness; and
- jointly working with builders to see their work through an aging lens.
One participant at the Summit articulated that policy changes must “pay attention to the needs and wants of older adults, not what we think is best.” To be sure, these are conversations that should be happening in every community.
Planners everywhere are confronting the challenges posed by aging communities. At the event planners were able to find value in the realization that there are “other planners like me involved in this…there are many people keenly interested in this mission that I can join forces with.” Moreover, using national resources and working with local aging network professionals enhances planners’ ability to address challenges and maximize the benefits of the asset that older adults in the community represent.
The Summit dialogue should mark the beginning of a strengthening collaboration. We at the AARP Public Policy Institute welcome the ideas of planners and aging network professionals alike on how to continue these cross-sector discussions at the local, regional, and national levels. We also would love to hear from all sectors about your own experiences engaging in these conversations.
Rodney Harrell, PhD is the director of livability thought leadership for AARP. He discusses livable community issues @DrUrbanPolicy.
Stephanie K. Firestone is a senior strategic policy advisor covering the areas of health and age-friendly communities for AARP International.
The AARP Public Policy Institute is the home of the Livability Index and many other resources. Visit www.aarp.org/livable for information on making communities more livable.
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In 2016, an estimated 5.4 million Americans had Alzheimer’s disease, the most common form of dementia. And while people of all ages can have dementia, 8.8 percent of adults age 65 and over have the disease.
With greater longevity and rapidly increasing numbers of individuals with dementia, we are all likely to encounter a person living with dementia as we go about our lives. We may witness a person living with the disease facing any number of challenges in navigating the community. Given the stigma around dementia in our society, people with the disease may be uncomfortable asking for help, or they may avoid venturing out in public at all — resulting in their suffering still further, from isolation.
To address these challenges, Dementia Friendly America (DFA) has launched a new tool that we can use to educate ourselves about how each of us as individuals can best interact with and support people living with dementia. We can take a few very simple and quick steps to become Dementia Friends. According to Ron Grant, who lives with dementia and is cochair of DFA, “Since there is no cure for dementia diseases and disorders, being a Dementia Friend will help those of us living with dementia to continue to live well in community.”
Dementia Friendly America, a multisector collaborative that includes AARP and a number of other leading national organizations and funding partners, is catalyzing a movement to more effectively support and serve those across America who are living with dementia and their family and friend care partners. While DFA catalyzes community-wide efforts, the Dementia Friends initiative enables each of us as individuals to play our part.
Dementia Friends U.S. is modeled after an effort that began in the United Kingdom as a way to help people learn more about what it is like to live with dementia and turn that understanding into action. DFA is the Dementia Friends U.S. licensee and has collaborated closely with the U.K. to bring the best aspects of the program to the U.S.
The first step in becoming a Dementia Friend is learning to recognize the signs of dementia (or other cognitive impairment), which could include any of the following signs:
- Difficulty communicating
- Getting lost
- Becoming frustrated
- Repeating words or phrases
- Poor judgment
- Unusual or inappropriate behavior
It doesn’t matter if a person exhibiting these signs actually has dementia; what matters is that all people are equipped to respond appropriately and in a supportive manner. A series of short online training videos depicts situations where you may encounter someone living with dementia in a variety of community settings including a restaurant, grocery store, library or bank or on a public transit system — and provides information on how you can help in such situations. After viewing the videos, you can become a Dementia Friend by committing to an activity that will help someone in your community with dementia.
Take just a few minutes to become a Dementia Friend at DementiaFriendsUSA.org. You can also check out Dementia Friendly America to learn how DFA is fostering “dementia friendly” communities across the country and how your community can become a safe and respectful place for individuals and families that are addressing this disease.
As we say at Dementia Friendly America: Living with value and purpose in the community is a human right.
Stephanie K. Firestone is a senior strategic policy advisor, health and age-friendly communities, AARP International, and a member of the Dementia Friendly America National Council.