Hosted in Dallas, the 2017 AARP Livable Communities National Conference was an opportunity for elected officials, planning professionals, local leaders and community advocates from throughout the nation to share ideas, best practices and solutions for making towns, cities and communities more livable for people of all ages.
The following video begins with a teaser about a winning project from the 2017 AARP Community Challenge. The discussion with Julián Castro was moderated by Nancy LeaMond, AARP Executive Vice President and Chief Advocacy and Engagement Officer.
A Conversation About Housing, Placemaking, Livability and More
- Julián Castro, former Secretary, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, former Mayor, City of San Antonio, Texas
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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.
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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.
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.
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.
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
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.
Follow Dr. Harrell on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn and Google+.
This post originally appeared in the IAGG 2017 Bridge blog.
Across the globe populations are aging, and this far-reaching change is happening much faster than most people realize. In just five years, the number of older persons will surpass one billion; they are already a fast-growing presence in cities and towns of all sizes, every region and all segments of society.
Photo courtesy of Dan Burden
This change provides countries across the globe with a great opportunity, because older individuals have so much to offer the communities where they live. But making the most of it will require vision and innovative thinking.
Fortunately, we have a growing body of knowledge about what it takes to make a community more “age friendly.” And it is becoming clearer all the time that cities and towns that embrace this priority are rewarded with a better quality of life for all their residents. There really is no alternative, because demographic trends are transforming societies around the world whether they are prepared or not.
Consider these numbers:
- For the first time in human history, by 2030, the number of people age 60 and over will exceed the number of children age 10 and under, an unprecedented demographic milestone that signals new challenges – and opportunities – for institutions, communities, government and the private sector.
- Our very notion of what it means to be “old” is changing profoundly. A 10-year-old in the United States now has a 50 percent chance of living to age 104. By 2050, the United States is projected to have more than 1 million centenarians.
Nations and local communities that take steps to become more livable for all will have the advantage over those that do not. The good news is that practical models on improving communities to be age friendly are available. Pioneering work by the World Health Organization (WHO) provides many insights into how communities can promote healthy, active aging and support inclusion and engagement that benefits all their residents.
The WHO also sponsors a Global Network for Age-Friendly Cities and Communities that share insights on best practices and lessons learned. AARP is committed to making this information more available, and in 2012 we created the AARP Network of Age-Friendly Communities to further that goal, in affiliation with the WHO.
These age-friendly networks highlight eight domains of livability that help shape quality of life for people of all ages: Outdoor spaces and buildings; transportation; housing; social participation; respect and inclusion; civic participation and employment; communication and information; community and health services.
Importantly, Alexandre Kalache, who helped create the WHO network, points out that age-friendly features do far more than just help seniors, they help everyone. Take the example of a bus that is designed for easy access. “If it is easy for an older person to get in and out of this bus, it is going to be more (accessible) to a child or a teenager, to a pregnant woman or to someone carrying her luggage.”
Design, land use and infrastructure all help pave the way for people to stay engaged in the world around them. But Kalache notes that for a place to be truly age friendly, inclusiveness must become a broadly shared cultural value. As he puts it, such a community is a place “where the attitude is right – from the policymakers to the service providers to the population as a whole…”
Promoting the value of inclusion requires a multi-faceted effort. Age-friendly communities should have physical infrastructures and offer services that help residents of all ages live active, engaged and secure lives. They should enact policies and rules (e.g., zoning and land use regulations) that create an accessible built environment and ensure affordable and convenient housing alternatives.
Age-friendly communities should provide transportation options that meet the varied needs of residents, including easy access to health care and retail shopping for basic necessities. They should keep the environment clean and public spaces safe and free of crime.
Age-friendly communities should give residents access to housing that is located near crucial services, such as transportation, health care, retail and recreation. Available housing should include choices that meet the needs of residents of all ages, including families with kids and those with grandparents.
All of these things make it easier for people to live the way they want to. And the fact is that most of us want the chance to age in our homes and communities for as long as possible. AARP surveys consistently show that older people desperately want to hold on to their independence and avoid moving into nursing institutions.
Yet obstacles often stand in the way of living independently and securely, particularly as we get older. Take the basic example of walking safely to the store or strolling around the block. In the United States, adults 65 and older make up 13 percent of the population, yet they suffer nearly 20 percent of pedestrian fatalities. Communities can do better. As a start, they should make changes to street, crosswalk and sidewalk design, maintenance, and signage. Poor infrastructure is also often the cause of older adult falls and falls are the cause of 68 percent of older adults’ hospitalizations.
Engagement, Foresight and Inclusiveness
Importantly, age-friendly places recognize older adults as the community assets that they are. They know that older residents offer experience and perspective that should be taken advantage of when it comes to planning, implementation and evaluation of programs and policies. They understand that in the process, the benefit flows in both directions: Older adults who get involved benefit personally from a sense of purpose and engagement, while the community gets the value of their experience. Inclusion leads to better decisions that help everyone.
An inclusive approach to age-friendly planning also raises awareness of changes affecting communities and the needs of residents. Noteworthy changes include the growing role of grandparents in raising grandchildren, the increase in multigenerational families, and growing ethnic and racial diversity in older age groups. An inclusive approach also seeks out input from a diverse set of older residents who may offer insights and solutions that would otherwise be overlooked. Further, age-friendly planning recognizes that as the population ages, there will be an increasing number of individuals with disabilities who rely on local services to stay independent.
Commitment and On-the-Ground Action
AARP’s goal is to help people live more easily and comfortably as they age and it has been gratifying to see that this goal is widely shared. Since its start in 2012, the AARP Network of Age-Friendly Communities has boomed, with a membership that has now reached 163 localities that are home to more than 64 million people living all over the United States. These are communities of all shapes and sizes – from small towns and rural counties to cities as large as Atlanta, Boston and Dallas.
AARP state offices work with local officials and activists across the network to promote age friendliness, and our communities have shown real leadership to prepare for demographic change rather than passively wait for it.
Within the network, we’ve seen a wide range of programs and successes.
- Portland, Oregon adjusted zoning codes and reduced municipal fees to make it easier for homeowners to add an accessory dwelling unit (or granny-flat), which can help residents to age in place.
- New York City added 1,500 new benches and 3,500 new or improved bus shelters, providing resting places for pedestrians and encouraging bus ridership, particularly in locations where older riders were likely to board.
- Washington, DC engaged over 500 volunteers in a multigenerational block-by-block walk program to identify pedestrian challenges such as broken sidewalks, missing curb cuts, and traffic signals that don’t allow safe crossing. It also introduced a free mobile app so people can report problems directly to transportation officials.
- Macon-Bibb County in central Georgia undertook a series of improvements to Tattnall Square Park, such as numerous resting facilities and a new gateway, in order to make the park more accessible and enjoyable for all.
- Westchester County, New York established a program to coach family caregivers who are often faced with difficult tasks in caring for loved ones who want to remain in the community.
Given the breadth of issues that age-friendliness must address, this work requires a local government commitment from the very top – one that filters down through every department to frontline workers. Age friendliness has to work for everyone, so it is vital that local officials and planners work across silos and reach into other disciplines to find holistic solutions. I am heartened by the extent to which age-friendly awareness is increasingly embraced by disciplines as varied as planning, architecture, real estate development and zoning, as well as increasing examples of cross-sector collaboration.
To support this multi-discipline approach, in March AARP sponsored a Summit on Livable Communities, which brought together two key organizations representing different disciplines – the American Society on Aging and the American Planning Association. The summit included 250 aging network professionals and local/regional planners, who talked about ways to work across professional silos to advance livable communities for all people, regardless of their age or ability. I believe some great partnerships were formed during the event, and look forward to hearing about future accomplishments.
We now know that people of all ages want their communities to be age friendly, whether they live in small villages, big cities or suburbs. The need is growing and not just in the developed world. By mid-century, one in five people in developing countries will be over 60. Communities of all sizes, all stages of development and in all regions of the world will benefit by making age friendliness a priority.
Building on our existing knowledge about age friendliness to find new and more effective approaches should be a priority in communities all over, and AARP is committed to helping.
Across the globe, community leaders cannot afford to ignore their aging populations. Everyone will benefit when we embrace this change and work together to prepare for the future.
Debra Whitman is AARP’s chief public policy officer and leads policy development, analysis and research, as well as global thought leadership that supports and advances the interests of older people and their families. Follow Deb on Twitter: @policydeb