Atlanta: the new South for older Americans
By 2030, one out of every five residents in Atlanta will be over age 60. Two years ago, the Atlanta Regional Commission launched its Lifelong Communities Initiative to promote housing and transportation options, encourage healthy lifestyles, and expand access to services for residents of all ages. With input from older residents, a multitude of experts came up with design principles for what makes a community livable. The commission chose six local communities to adopt the ideals.
Dekalb County, which lies east of downtown Atlanta, is one. As a result, County Commissioner Jeff Rader predicts that within the next five years, the area will have more infrastructure, including sidewalks, a local circular transit system and shuttles so seniors don't have to drive. There'll also be a change in the zoning code, with more senior housing in commercial-type districts and congregate meals in neighborhood areas, he says.
Proposed projects, like three senior centers in DeKalb, must be accessible to those who don't drive, have safe sidewalks and have access to other services in the community. "We're interested in not just what happens inside the senior center, but how the building relates to the rest of the community," says Laura Keyes, initiative manager from the Atlanta Regional Commission.
Like Dekalb County, the sprawling suburb of Mableton on the western side of the city is another chosen community. It received a federal Administration on Aging grant to improve the quality of life for older Americans. Results so far include:
- An 11-week farmers' market that takes place in the mornings, rather than on a crowded Saturday or busier time of day. Buses bring older residents from the senior center to the market. Mableton hopes to have a town square with the farmers' market as central component.
- An intergenerational community garden on donated land across the street from the farmers' market. The project started last fall, and more than half of the dozen or so gardeners are age 50-plus. Retired civil servant Dave McDaniel, 60, grows collard greens, spinach, broccoli, cabbage, beans and tomatoes. "It's a great opportunity to get out and work with my hands and meet new people of all backgrounds," he says.
- Walkability assessments by citizens to evaluate how pedestrian-friendly a route is and recommend changes. Robin Mayer, 59, took notes and photographs as she walked one route. Her findings? Sidewalks felt too narrow for two people, there wasn't enough shade and the traffic moved too quickly.
- A ride-match program that connects residents living in the same area to others so they can carpool to the senior center.
- A mental health collaborative in which Mableton has partnered with Emory University to share aging resources, identify gaps in services and address the common problem of depression in older adults.
- Proposed changes to the zoning codes that would allow more types of housing and mixed-use projects (an assisted living facility or single family homes near stores, for instance) in a walkable environment.