On September 12th in Washington, DC, the National Building Museum partnered with AARP to host Livable Communities: Healthy Neighborhoods, a panel discussion that explored the need for developers, planners, designers, and health professionals to partner in order to create livable communities for older adults, and for everyone.
What is the impetus for livable communities, especially for older adults? The links between the built environment and health are especially critical for older adults who are looking to remain in their same communities and have access to a healthy lifestyle as they age. The large majority of Americans hope to stay in the same place, and 83% of baby boomers want to stay in their same house – will they be able to do that and have access to the amenities they want and need?
The panel was moderated by Ted Eytan, MD MS MPH, director for the Permanente Federation, LLC. Panelists and key takeways included:
- Terry M. Bellamy, mayor of the city of Asheville, North Carolina. Mayor Bellamy described ways that Asheville is improving for the aging population, including: adopting a Complete Streets policy in 2012; expanding the city’s transit system; investing in senior recreation and health centers; and creating a greenway master plan that connects people to different places around Ashville and supports walking, biking, and – in some cases – canoeing.
- Scott Ball, planner and project manager at Duany Plater-Zyberk & Company. Ball discussed the use of data to understand how people are using and moving through their environments, in order to change the way that developers, planners, and designers are creating these environments.
- Irene H. Yen, PHD MPH, associate professor at the University of California, San Francisco School of Medicine. Yen discussed ways to support walking in communities, as adults over 65 are twice as likely to be killed in traffic crashes while walking. Walking is also the most common form of exercise for adults, with multiple health benefits, so features such as sidewalks, crosswalks, connectivity, and ‘interesting things to look at’ (aesthetics) are needed to support this behavior and ensure safety.
After the panel presentations, Amy Levner from the AARP Livable Communities program discussed the initiative, posing the question, ‘what will people stuck in cul-de-sacs going to do when they can no longer drive?’ The AARP’s initiative is working to highlight places like Asheville where community leaders and decision-makers are thinking about the built environment and health issues that are facing the U.S. as our population ages. Across the country there are examples of innovation in preparation for the demographic shifts that are coming over the next 25 years. These efforts include projects to revise comprehensive plans in Richmond, VA and Maricopa County, AZ; public-private partnerships to revitalize the downtown area in Las Vegas, NV; and the adoption of Blue Zones strategies in the state of Iowa.
The National Building Museum and AARP are co-sponsoring another panel in this series on Tuesday October 29th, Livable Communities: Boomers in the ‘Burbs: Aging in Place.