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Active Living Workshops Lay Framework for Community Improvements

AARP Mississippi recently conducted Active Living Workshops in Clarksdale and Tupelo to engage residents in conversations about making their cities more livable. AARP brought in Dan Burden, nationally renowned civic innovator, to facilitate the conversations and assess the cities during a tour.

See Also: Dan Burden on the AARP Blog

About 50 residents, including two City Commissioners, participated in the Clarksdale workshop and discussed how to make the city safer. An AARP community group called Seniors for a More Livable Community and other city residents discussed their concerns about crime and city cleanliness.

Burden shared ways other communities worked together to clean their cities and reduce crime. He said simple actions like fixing broken windows on abandoned building could deter criminal activity because the building “looks cared for.”

During the walking tour of the historic Myrtle Hall school block, Burden and residents pointed out opportunities to develop the property. Residents discussed the block’s historic significance and reminisced about their times in the community. Burden discussed the potential for sidewalks, a corner store and off-street parking. Burden told the residents they had the potential to develop the area so that “anybody who is going to be bad is not going to be bad here, and hopefully not even in your community at all.”

After the tour, the group reviewed health statistics and the link between a walkable community and physical wellbeing for all ages.

The Clarksdale community group had already begun talking with the mayor, city commissioners and police chief about making the city safer. The workshop was the first step in developing an action plan that the community group will pursue.

Tupelo Workshop

About 40 Tupelo residents, including two City Council people and Mississippi Department of Transportation staff, discussed the benefits that a community transportation system would bring to the city. They discussed how community transportation would increase commerce by moving people to jobs and shopping areas.

“People are ready to convert how many cars they own to how convenient they can live their lives. Now a lot people as long as they can drive, they will, and they should,” Burden said. But walkable communities with community transportation provide more options for people to get around, he said.

Burden is Executive Director of the Walkable and Livable Communities Institute in Port Townsend, WA. The Institute’s mission is to create healthy, connected communities that support active living and that advance opportunities for all people through walkable streets, livable cities and better built environments.

During the walking tour, Burden pointed out street intersections that had the potential for walking injuries and lawsuits. Burden also discussed simple steps to improve streets. For example, crosswalks could be painted. He also said street lanes could be reduced to encourage drivers to drive slower. He also suggested not using land for parking. Instead, he suggests adding parking spots on the streets.

Burden also discussed the importance of trees. “A tree is your friend,” Burton said. “A tree gives back far, far more money in its lifetime than it costs to plant it.”

Burden also presented information to the Tupelo mayor and City Council during the City Council meeting. AARP and members of the community group now are preparing next steps.

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