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Creating Livable Communities for an Aging Society

Does your community and neighborhood have the features to help you age successfully? Will you be able to maintain independence, have a high quality of life and stay connected and engaged in the social and civic life of your community as you age? According to multiple AARP surveys, a vast majority of Americans (89%) want to continue to live in their own home and community as long as possible. However, many find that they are not able to do so because of lack of affordable and appropriate housing, adequate mobility options, availability of support and services and other community features.

Across the country, there is a growing awareness of these challenges as our communities struggle to make themselves more age-friendly places in response to their growing aging populations. Unfortunately, many of our cities and neighborhoods face problems with land use patterns, insufficient or decaying infrastructure, lack of community support, and various other important issues. Often, citizens who know the most important needs of their neighborhoods are not able to effectively communicate with the agencies and organizations that plan and improve those same places.

Over the past year, AARP Oregon and Portland State University (PSU) has been working to develop a course titled Creating Livable Communities for an Aging Society, based on AARP materials and expertise. Being offered for the first time this summer, the course is a “Senior Capstone”—a required community based service-learning project for all final-year undergraduate students at PSU. In addition to the in-class instruction, community-based field work in two Portland neighborhoods—Overlook and Hollywood—will connect students and their academic learning with neighborhood residents to assess community livability and to identify community needs. Pushing beyond solely academic goals, the course seeks to affect change locally through the involvement of key collaborators including City of Portland’s Bureau of Planning and Sustainability, Multnomah County’s Aging and Disability Services Division, PSU’s Institute on Aging, and Elders in Action.

“I am excited to be engaged in work within the City of Portland that can lead to action,” says Alan DeLaTorre, PSU course instructor. Noting that Portland is well known as a leader in the field of urban and regional planning, DeLaTorre points out, however, that work is still needed in regard to addressing the issues of a rapidly aging population. “Hopefully this is just the beginning of the process of incorporating aging as a part of our planning and development efforts.”

In July, students and community partners will be working with area residents and local stakeholders to conduct interviews, focus groups, and community assessments in targeted neighborhoods. However, community meetings are already well underway as this pilot program looks to become a model for creating more livable communities for those of all ages and abilities in Portland and beyond.

At a recent community kick-off meeting, Jo Senters, a retiree who recently moved from Seattle to the Hollywood neighborhood, expressed her excitement to be part of the project. “This is exactly the kind of civic engagement and local leadership I would be interested in.” Senters, who chose her current community for its walkability, local amenities and intergenerational culture, is keen on being involved and helping make it more livable. “I like the local improvement aspect and connecting diverse ages with good ideas and works.”

Assess Your Own Neighborhood

Are you interested in assessing the livability of your community? There are a variety of resources available to help. For more information on this collaboration and other AARP Oregon Livable Communities efforts, contact Bandana Shrestha at BShrestha@aarp.org or 503-513-7368.

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