Innovation brings new transportation option to rural America

Innovation brings new transportation option to rural America


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.

lynott 50x50About 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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Building Livable Communities for All Ages in Washington, D.C.


Affordable Housing development

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.

Neighborhood Amenities

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



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Visualizing the Housing Gap – the 2017 LTSS Scorecard

Visualizing the Housing Gap – the 2017 LTSS Scorecard


If you look at the 2017 Long Term Services and Supports (LTSS) Scorecard, you may notice that something is different in this third edition– housing and transportation indicators are included for the first time. Affordable and accessible housing and transportation options are key components of a livable community. Having options that people can access, regardless of their age, income, physical ability or other factors brings them closer to the community features and services they need to remain engaged in their communities.

AARP’s Livability Index gives higher housing scores to neighborhoods in counties with more subsidized (sometimes known as affordable) housing, as it ensures that people of all incomes can have access to a place to live. One of the elements of a high-functioning LTSS system is that it gives people choices about where to live and receive services. Affordable housing is essential to shifting the delivery of LTSS from an institutional model towards home and community-based care. However, a major barrier to transitioning people out of institutions and back to their communities is the lack of affordable and accessible housing options. The Scorecard includes a measure of the supply of subsidized housing at the state level, an important resource to help individuals with lower incomes and LTSS needs stay in the community and receive services at home or in a community setting.

This Scorecard measure captures the total amount of subsidized housing opportunities—spanning many different programs—divided by the total number of housing units in a state.  The total number of subsidized housing opportunities has risen since 2011, but it still falls short of current and future needs.

This chart shows the supply of subsidized housing opportunities in each state in 2015 (blue bars), the improvement from four years earlier (red line), and the gap in affordable housing opportunities (light blue solid area). Nationally, there are more than 18 million renters at or below area median income (most of whom are cost-burdened by housing) and fewer than 8 million potentially subsidized units.  There is still an affordable housing crisis in our country.

The solution seems simple – we should build more of this housing. Federal programs such as Section 202 have historically built new affordable housing for older adults with low incomes. However, the federal government has stopped funding new construction of this and similar programs, and fewer affordable apartments are available under these programs. Vouchers have become more popular due to their efficiency, but holders may have a hard time finding appropriate housing and landlords who will accept their voucher in more livable neighborhoods.  Those counting on a subsidized unit might find that there are not enough available in a helpful location.

Decades ago, we did not anticipate that people with LTSS needs would stay in their communities, so most of our neighborhoods were not designed for their needs. While communities work to build more housing with “universal design” features, many units may have steps and other barriers that are problematic for those with LTSS needs.  This must change if our communities are going to meet the goal of providing options for all people of all ages.

The good news is that there are more opportunities today (the blue bars in the chart) than in the past (the red line) as vouchers have increased and programs such as the Low Income Housing Tax Credit Program build more units. States can help by allocating these tax credits in ways that enhance livability, developing housing trust funds, grants or loan programs, or taking other steps. However, it is clear that government cannot solve this alone, especially when proposals to build new affordable housing meet objections. Building livable communities for all must be a goal for all – not just policymakers, but builders, homeowners, residents and neighbors.

 

Join Dr. Harrell and other AARP experts for a twitter chat to discuss housing needs and the LTSS Scorecard at 1pm EDT on July 19.  Join the conversation using #PickUpthePace and share your questions and insights.

 

Rodney Harrell, PhD, is Director of Livable Communities for the AARP Public Policy Institute. His expertise includes neighborhood choice, housing affordability and accessibility, transit-oriented development, community redevelopment, sustainable community initiatives and other livable communities issues.

Follow Dr. Harrell on FacebookTwitterPinterest, LinkedIn and Google+.

 

 



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Disrupting Housing: Younger Generations Leading the Way to Develop a Model for Ageless Homes

Disrupting Housing: Younger Generations Leading the Way to Develop a Model for Ageless Homes


Every person, regardless of age, can participate in creating a livable community. According to a newly published report from Generations United, opportunities that bring different generations together—even the tougher ones involving “tack[ling] critical problems” benefit the entire community.

Though somewhat counterintuitive, finding solutions to meet the needs of older adults must involve voices and collaboration coming from people of all ages. Various generations offer different perspectives, and in fact, people of all ages gain value from age friendly concepts. A recent project we led proved to be a living example.

A Winning Project

The likelihood of having a disability that limits a person’s mobility increases with age. Homes with physical barriers can present risk of falls and injuries, especially for someone with mobility challenges. In 2016, AARP and its partners called for submissions to a competition-style project that sought new solutions for homes that best accommodate our needs as we age. “Re-Defining Home: Home Today, Home Tomorrow,” developed through AARP’s Future of Housing Initiative, asked architects to redesign an existing home while embracing the concept of universal design—that is, design that supports and empowers all people and families: retirees, caregivers and their loved ones, people with disabilities, singles, and young and multigenerational families.

AARP and partners renovated a home in Memphis, TN to incorporate universal design features to accommodate the needs of residents as they age. New features include an open space floor plan with flexible space, wide hallways and spacious bathroom with a curb-less shower.
Photo: Benjamin Rednour

 

Entrants were challenged to discard typical designs usually targeted towards older adults such as ramps or shower handrails. Rather, competition judges wanted to see evidence of innovative thinking around how affordability, flexibility, community, accessibility, beauty and functionality could best be reflected in a home for people who want to remain in their homes as they age.

Accessible features

Designers incorporated features that provide opportunities to engage the community. Front yard planters can become a community garden. Large windows invite interaction with neighbors.   Photo: Benjamin Rednour

 

The winning team included three junior architects, from IBI Group—Gruzen Samton, Gabriel Espinoza, Carmen Velez, and Timothy Gargiulo—professionals under age 30. Their designs considered what it means to age in place successfully: creating an easily navigable home, incorporating features to reduce fall risks, as well as creating space to nurture and maintain family and community connections. Ms. Velez no doubt drew from her own experience living with her grandmother, Carmencita Bengzon, to help inform the team’s choices. Ultimately, this winning team’s original and imaginative plans were incorporated into a house in Memphis, TN—now the home of a veteran and his family, including his mom, who has limited mobility.

Winning team; veteran family

IBI Group—Gruzen Samton architects, Gabriel Espinoza, Timothy Gargiulo, and Carmen Velez speak about their winning designs at the home renovation reveal (left). Mr. Walter Moody and his mother, see their “ageless” home for the first time (right). Photo: Benjamin Rednour

 

Also achieving success in age disruption was the entry from 11-year old Jennifer Haage, a self-described future architect. (Yes, that’s right—when we say all ages should contribute, we mean all ages.) In her thoughtful and comprehensive proposal, Jenny shared her ideas for aging within a home suitable for all families. Her designs included using wide hallways for wheelchair accessibility, creating multi-functional spaces, adding in interior and exterior green spaces, and incorporating a “cat corner,” since pets can be great companionship for older adults who may feel isolated.

Renderings by Jennifer Haage

Designs from Jennifer Haage, age 11, who shared her vision for an “ageless” home. Photo: Jennifer Haage

 

All-Ages Approach a Winning Combination

The Re-Defining Home competition illustrates how accessible home design can be duplicated across the country.  The winning team exemplifies younger generations taking action to solve pressing issues that make stronger communities for all. Encouraging and inspiring young people to participate in aging issues can positively impact their families, careers and communities—and help us to make places more livable for people, both today and tomorrow.

 

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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



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‘We Should Talk’: Cross-Sector Conversations on Livable Communities Show Great Promise

‘We Should Talk’: Cross-Sector Conversations on Livable Communities Show Great Promise


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.

 

 

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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.
Follow Dr. Harrell on FacebookTwitterPinterest, LinkedIn and Google+.



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