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Macon Gets a Lesson in Livability

More than two dozen Macon-area residents and AARP Georgia members recently learned firsthand how to create a walkable and livable community.
Dan Burden, executive director of the Walkable and Livable Communities Institute, led the group on a tour around Tattnall Square, a large older park near the Mercer University campus in Macon, giving participants a clear vision of what it means to live in a walkable city.

The tour was part of a daylong workshop that highlighted the key elements that make a city more user-friendly, including traffic roundabouts that slow vehicles; well-marked bike paths and lanes; and properly placed pedestrian crosswalks. Burden touched on issues of neighborhood size and scale, the attractiveness of open space and how a mix of land uses – retail, housing, office and parks or other public spaces, for example – and building structures can enhance a community.

The workshop, held on the campus of Mercer University, began with a slide presentation that pointed out what other cities have done to improve their livability. Burden pointed out that in many cases, major roads have been deliberately narrowed to slow traffic, giving drivers an opportunity to view the shops and businesses they would normally rush by. At that same time, the narrowing gives cities and merchants an opportunity to install benches, tables and trees to make the sidewalk more attractive to shoppers.

“Macon-Bibb County is already an appealing place to live,” said Karen Cooper, associate state director of outreach for AARP Georgia, “and this new commitment will make it a more vibrant community for everyone, including older residents.”

Burden pointed out that zoning requirements can often cause “buildings to misbehave” through design that causes pedestrians to avoid them. For example, buildings with large parking lots in front may appeal to drivers but not walkers, Burden pointed out.

After the slide presentation, Burden took the group on a walking tour around the park, where they discussed how the park was functioning and could function, based on usability tenets. Burden then led them a few blocks into the neighborhood to see how businesses were catering to pedestrians, pointing out how expanded sidewalks made it possible to put tables and chairs out to attract passersby.

Following the walk, the group broke down into smaller discussions to brainstorm suggestions on how livable and livable concepts could be used to create a better park experience for visitors.

The workshop was part of a two-day AARP outreach into Macon-Bibb County, which has been officially designated as an Age-Friendly Community because of its commitment to become more accessible, convenient and ultimately more user-friendly for older Americans.
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