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What is a Livable Community?
A livable community is safe and secure, and provides affordable, appropriate housing; adequate transportation; and supportive community features and services. Once in place, these resources enhance personal independence, allow residents to age in place, and foster residents’ engagement in the community’s civic, economic, and social life.
How does AARP support and promote livable communities for all ages?
The AARP Public Policy Institute’s Livable Communities Team, through various research projects, publications and speaking engagements, educates older adults, policy makers, and other key stakeholders about AARP’s policies that promote communities which allow people to age in place. In addition, the Livable Communities team partners with other organizations that support similar goals as well as highlights successful programs, initiatives and policies from jurisdictions across the country that are making livable communities a reality.
AARP Livable Communities Principles
Policymakers on the federal, state, and local levels have important roles to play in designing and maintaining—and at times, retrofitting—communities so that they are active places where residents of all ages, including those 50 and older, can participate fully. The following principles set out the broad goals for policymakers, both in establishing such communities generally and in the specific areas of land use, housing, and transportation.
Create livable communities. Provide features and services designed to enhance the ability of residents with diverse needs to remain independent and actively engaged in community life.
Improve health. Communities should provide access to healthy food options, opportunities for walking, biking and exercise, and connections to health facilities and related services and supports including home- and community-based supportive features and services.
Foster safety and personal security. Governments should support and promote community safety and security initiatives that promote neighborhood cohesion and maximize opportunities for residents to be active and engaged with neighbors, family, and friends.
Engage residents in community planning and provide equal access to the decisionmaking process. Government land use, housing, and transportation/mobility decisions have broad effects on the lives of residents. Communities should put in place structures that ensure that these decisions are made only with the active input of a wide cross-section of community members, including representation of those unable to advocate on their own behalf.
Protect civil and legal rights. Communities should promote policies and efforts to eliminate discrimination on the basis of income, race, national origin, disability, or other categories and ensure equitable rules, regulations, and funding decisions.
Coordinate planning processes. Community land use, infrastructure, housing, transportation, supportive services, and community health care planning each play a part in creating livable communities and promoting successful aging in place. Planning processes and decisions affecting these policy areas should be developed through a process that reflects their interconnectedness.
Invest in existing communities. Investment in existing communities must be efficient and beneficial to those who desire to age in place. Development resources should be strengthened and directed toward existing communities and community revitalization and economic development plans should include the needs of older adults.
What is Planning and Development for People of All Ages?
Planning guides future development with the goal of creating functional, attractive and sustainable communities by utilizing existing resources and making improvements where necessary to benefit people of all ages. Planning is successful when community members help shape the vision for their communities and policymakers consider those needs and integrate them into the decisions, policies and actions of government.
Planning and development for people of all ages takes into account the needs of the entire community, including older adults. The Census Bureau projects that by 2030, the number of people 65 years of age and older will grow to over 72 million persons and comprise nearly 20 percent of the population. In many communities, that percentage has already been reached or will be reached sooner than 2030. As a result, governments and policymakers must develop plans and implement strategies that will accommodate older adults. Policies such as mixed-used development, transit-oriented development, universal design and complete streets all contain elements that would bring needed services, accessibility and increased mobility to younger persons and people age 50 and older, so plans must include people of all ages, incomes and physical abilities.
Since 2004 AARP has promoted the creation of livable communities for all ages, and the coordination of land use, housing, and transportation plans and policies. In 2009 the federal government created a Sustainable Communities Partnership among the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the Department of Transportation (DOT), and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). These agencies agreed to coordinate federal housing, transportation, and other infrastructure investments, and support related efforts at the state and local levels. The federal partnership’s “livability principles” reflect several of AARP’s principles for a livable community.
A sustainable community contains several attributes that support and promote community wellness, housing affordability and greater mobility for all residents. Sustainable communities are often the result of comprehensive planning efforts that take an integrated approach to solving community issues, by considering connections between transportation, housing, infrastructure and the environment. For example, transit-oriented development (TOD), a strategy that promotes sustainability includes compact development with greater development density within walking distance to transit and contains a mix of uses such as housing, retail, offices, restaurants and parks. Applying this type of design philosophy can provide a better range of housing and transportation options for aging in one’s community.
Livable Communities and Health
Livable communities can improve health of residents by enhancing individuals’ ability to participate in healthy behaviors and avoid health hazards. Opportunities to promote physical activity and provide access to health care facilities and healthy food options can positively contribute to the health of a community. A livable community promotes pedestrian, bicycle and public transportation usage, providing options for those who do not drive and giving residents an opportunity for exercise.
A high level of community involvement can also be beneficial for individual well-being, including mental health. Residents can be actively engaged through personal connections and participation in community activities. Neighbors who provide informal assistance when needed, participate with local organizations and are involved with local political and community activities can expand their social networks and share their expertise which can promote improved mental health and limit the potential for isolation. Neighborhood green and open spaces such as parks and plazas, indoor and outdoor recreational facilities, sidewalks without obstacles and safe streets that protect pedestrians allow all people to remain active as they age and interact with neighbors.
Communities that lack these features can have the opposite effect on health, as can places with health hazards. Poorly planned communities are often automobile-centered places, and are characterized by dispersed development (sprawl) and restrict the ability of residents to get around without access to cars. Communities with high levels of pollution, environmental hazards, or safety issues contribute to negative health outcomes and harm livability.
The public has a key role shaping and implementing the vision for future development. Public involvement in the planning process is vital to identifying a community’s assets and challenges and ensuring that plans are carried out by local governments. Community residents of all ages can participate in activities at all stages of the planning process by aiding in community research, participating in community meetings and charrettes, sharing opinions on planning documents, participating on advisory boards, communicating through electronic media, attending public hearings and supporting or expressing concerns about plans when they face approval by the governing bodies.
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