How to make your community livable for you now and in the years ahead
Making communities more age friendly can have a big impact on healthy aging.
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Walking down the street with my dog is exciting, even though there are many things we will see and do.
We will say hello to our elderly neighbor who tends his garden. We will be passing teens on the basketball courts and younger children on the playground. It is a Saturday cookout that I know will be held by members of the church congregation. My dog Milo is going to start pulling when he spots the grocer at the corner of the street.
As predictable as they may be, the environments and interactions that make up my neighbourhood make it livable.
Mike Watson, AARP's director of livable neighborhoods, stated that a livable community is one where residents of all ages can thrive. This allows a family to build a life for their children, and then feel involved in their community long after they retire.
He added that these types of communities aren't accessible to everyone.
The AARP and Trust for America's Health are both working together with communities across the United States. Karon Phillips, the trust's policy development manager, stated that the goal is to make them safer, more accessible, and more equitable for all racial and ethnic groups.
Research has shown that community and social connections are crucial to long life spans and good health outcomes. Conversely, a lack of these connections can lead to lower life expectancy. Watson suggested that a livable community could be a key component of living longer, healthier lives.
What makes a community livable?
While the specific needs of each neighborhood will determine what makes a place liveable, there are common elements.
According to Johns Hopkins Children's Hospital, nutrition, physical activity and sleep are the four pillars of good health. These pillars are supported by many things that make a community livable.
Watson stated that it is important for communities to have multiple modes of transportation. Not only are roads safe, but also navigable sidewalks are essential for residents who do not drive.
Different forms of affordable housing also help people stay in the communities that they love. Phillips explained that apart from single-family homes, there are apartments and accessory dwelling units, which is a small apartment or home on the same property as a single-family house. This provides options for those with limited resources or who require care.
She said that there are many ways to get quality food and health care, whether you have a car or not. This ensures people can live in communities well.
Phillips also said that another important factor is the effectiveness of a place to promote social connection. Is there a park that is accessible to all generations? Are there libraries or community centers? Is there a faith community? Is there a system or culture that allows people to check in on each other?
Watson stated that many resources can be found online and high-speed internet broadband makes it easier for people to access them.
He said that while there are retirement communities that can provide these services, not all residents want to move when their needs change.
"What I hear from my patients and the outcomes of people's lives, is that the more you can integrate yourself in the community where your work and live, the better it will affect your mood," said Dr. Mirnova Ceide assistant professor of psychology at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Bronx, New York.
She said that people who live alone or are placed in a different environment can become really depressed.
Phillips stated that investing in a community that works well for everyone, regardless of your life stage, is always a smart idea.
Watson stated that if all goes well, the 20-year old today will become a 60 year-old one day. Therefore, planning for a neighborhood that is long-lasting and beneficial to everyone is important.
He said that millennials are a bigger generation, and therefore are expected to live longer. "This country is aging."
Watson stated that younger generations don’t need to wait for the investment to pay off.
He said that the same parks and libraries which provide social connections to older adults are also valuable resources for children and young families. Safety and crosswalks are essential for wheelchair-bound people, crutches users, and stroller families.
Dr. Mirnova Ceide, Albert Einstein College of Medicine, stated that connecting with older people doesn't mean just offering help.
Everyone can benefit from being able to live with multiple generations, regardless of whether it is learning about iPads and the roots of a local community, stated Dr. Joyce Balls Berry, an associate professor of neurology at Washington University School of Medicine.
Balls-Berry stated that there is so much to be learned from elders. "And there are even things our seniors can learn from generations that would be their great grandchildren and grandchildren."
How do you make it happen?
Phillips stated that many of the things that make communities liveable depend on the built environment, such as parks, housing, and access to grocery stores. Therefore, Phillips believes that much of the advancement will have to be made by local governments and other organizations.
Phillips stated, "Look at who needs a partner." Phillips said, "There must be someone who is going to push for this."
Watson stated that there are still things you can do as individuals to make your community more liveable.
He said that you can press local government to make changes. But, it's not enough. You can also go around your neighborhood and document any areas that might be dangerous or unaccessible.
Watson stated that pictures of cracks in curbs and sidewalks that may not be obvious to someone with vision impairment could motivate legislators to allocate funding at levels that are appropriate for the community.
Ceide stated that the community relationships can help make it more livable.
Your older neighbors don't need to be unable to do it all on their own. You can offer your assistance and help them. Ceide said that you should ask your neighbors about their lives and share your stories in order to make real connections.
She said that people like to be able to interact with others on a human level. This can help them feel valued and have something to offer.