Skip to content

2021 Engagement Workshop Video: A Conversation With Mayors Steve Benjamin and Satya Rhodes-Conway

The mayors of Columbia, South Carolina, and Madison, Wisconsin, discuss inclusive engagement and recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic

This discussion panel features the participants listed on the opening slide. Watch the video by clicking the play arrow. Read the transcript below.

Share this video via YouTube

The presentation transcript was created by an automated transcription tool. Portions have been edited for clarity or length. Anyone looking to quote or use information from the event is advised to compare the text to the video recording.

MIKE WATSON: Now, I’d like to turn to our closing panel for the workshop: Looking Forward, Inclusive Engagement and Recovery From the Pandemic.

This next conversation will focus on how mayors and local leaders have prioritized engagement throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. We will also discuss how they are engaging residents in their decision-making process, as they allocate funds under the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021.

We're going to hear from two incredible local leaders, and we also have the discussion moderated by another incredible leader, AARP's own Nancy LeaMond.

So, without further ado, let me introduce our moderator and two guests. First, moderating today's discussion, is Nancy LeaMond, Executive Vice President, and Chief Advocacy and Engagement Officer at AARP. Nancy has responsibility for driving AARP’s social mission, on behalf of Americans 50-plus and their families, and she leads government affairs and legislative campaigns for AARP. Welcome, Nancy.

NANCY LEAMOND: Thanks, Mike.

MIKE WATSON: Next, we have Stephen Benjamin, Mayor of Columbia, South Carolina. Mayor Benjamin has made it his mission to make Columbia, South Carolina, the most talented, educated and entrepreneurial city in America, and I know that he has been a champion of the age-friendly movement in Columbia, as well as a former president of the United States Conference of Mayors, among other leadership posts. Welcome, Mayor Benjamin.

STEVE BENJAMIN: Good to be with you.

MIKE WATSON: Finally, we have Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway, the 58th Mayor of Madison, Wisconsin. She has extensive experience in local policy and practice, having worked with mayors across the country and serving three terms on the Madison Common Council. Elected in 2019, she is the city’s second female mayor and the first out LGBTQ person to serve as mayor of Madison. I'm delighted to welcome these three visionary leaders, and now I'd like to turn it over to Nancy to lead this discussion.

NANCY LEAMOND: Well, thanks Mike, and I'm thrilled to be here with these two mayors. Many thanks to Mayor Benjamin and Mayor Rhodes-Conway for joining us today.

We've had the pleasure of working closely with them both over the years, and you're in for a treat just getting their perspectives. You know, with the pandemic still very much with us and state and local leaders making major decisions about the future of their communities, prioritizing inclusive engagement has never been more important now. We've heard from some incredible panelists and speakers over the last two days and as I said, I'm delighted to be here for our closing panel, with these two leaders who have been championing this issue for many, many years.

So, let's move to them, and my first question goes to Mayor Rhodes-Conway.

The AARP Network of Age-Friendly States and Communities provides a framework and resources to help strengthen communities for people of all ages. Very early in your term as mayor you enrolled Madison, Wisconsin, and committed to ensuring that communities of color, low-income, and other under-represented populations of older adults was truly represented in your planning efforts.

And, before I asked you the question, I'm going to say that my son went to the University of Wisconsin, and it's a miracle anybody moves away from Madison. So, I’m especially glad to get your insights on how the age-friendly framework is informing your engagement of diverse populations and the voices of older adults, particularly throughout this COVID-19 pandemic.

SATYA RHODES-CONWAY: Thank you, Nancy, and it's a pleasure to be here and to see you, if only virtually again, and I really appreciate the chance to speak with you today. And, you know, I think the age-friendly framework has been really influential in how we're engaging and how we're thinking about engagement, pre-pandemic and during pandemic, and I expect post-pandemic as well. 

I really appreciate, and I think my staff appreciate, the tools that the framework makes available. For example, the age-friendly community survey offers formats for listening sessions, and other tools to engage older adults in our community. And, you know, we're still in the phase of gathering our baseline information. And it’s a little odd to be gathering baseline information during a pandemic, but there you have it. That's when we entered into the process and that's what we're going to be doing, but we're having so many important conversations, as a result. Both on being in the age-friendly communities network and everything that has come to light via the pandemic.

We really want to make sure that we're engaging everybody as part of our planning processes. To that end, we're pulling together a bunch of volunteers to be part of this work, as we move forward. So, I would say that our senior center is doing a lot, our committee on aging is doing a lot, and our staff in this area, overall, is really listening. We’re using a number of different ways to engage with the community, and the age- friendly framework has been absolutely critical in that process.

NANCY LEAMOND: Well, thank you for that. I’ve known you and Mayor Benjamin for a long time, and I know you both have terrific listening skills which is not always paramount, particularly as public officials have to deliver a lot of messages. So, thank you for that.

Mayor Benjamin, I’d like to turn to you, and it's so good to see you. You've been known to call your city's older residents Columbia’s ‘perennials’ because of the roots they put down, and what they bring to the table in terms of their skills, experience and contributions to the economy. As part of your age-friendly initiative, you focused on both preparing for an aging population and attracting in this experienced class. How have you seen perennials heighten economic vitality in Columbia? And when cities prioritize their participation, how can older residents become resources for civic, business and educational life? And contribute more to a livable community?

STEVE BENJAMIN: Well, Nancy, I don't mind telling you and Satya how much I missed you both. My time spent with you and the entire leadership of AARP has been gratifying throughout my years in public office. And obviously I always tell Satya she kind of cheated before she actually came into the office of mayor of Madison with the experience of actually helping train so many of us to do our work through the Mayor's Innovation Project, which was really a game changer. So, it's an honor to be here with both of you.

Nancy, as you know, I often refer to our folks over 50 as our perennials because so much of our jargon and dialogue are pitches to people who might want to make a capital investment in our cities — the last several years it has been on millennials and Gen Z. The reality is that when you actually look at the data, you see that those over 50 and 60 are actually more entrepreneurial and start more businesses than younger cohorts.   Pre-pandemic, in this country alone, the 50-plus marketplaces was a $7.6 trillion market. You know if you looked at that in terms of GDP, that’s a larger GDP than any country in the world, save the United States and China.

And in a world in which demography is destiny, smart cities would focus on how you attract the talent and experience of America's “experience class” to your city. The reality is that all of our studies showed us the very same thing: that everything you do to attract everyone else, is what seniors are looking for, too. They just actually have some assets, some experience and an amazing commitment to make your community better.  So, I will say one of the very best things I’ve done in my years of working as mayor of this city is in numerous partnerships with the AARP.

Over the years, we received placemaking grants that focus on creating spaces, not just for seniors but for everyone to enjoy here in Columbia. We were recipients of a Cities of Service Experience Matters grant. Through a competition, we received a $30,000 award that helped us develop some volunteer initiatives that came right before the pandemic.   We were able to work closely using those resources to try and tap into younger people to work with some of the citizens who were most in need, particularly at the beginning of the pandemic.

The reality is that if, in fact, you are going to build a city that's going to be sustainable, it's going to be livable and it’s going to be vibrant. Going into this new age, and Satya was mentioning the fact that she's doing data gathering right now, and I think it's actually a wonderful — maybe the perfect time — to gather data because our new normal cannot be with the old normal was. And I think being able to gather information in this incredibly challenging time in which we live, right now, will really help dictate how we truly build cities for all people going forward. So, I’m excited and once again, just thankful, to have an opportunity to participate in one more panel with AARP.

NANCY LEAMOND: Well, thank you for that, and thank you again, both for your fearless leadership, and valuing experienced workers and residents.  You know, as you say, this new normal is going to see older Americans more connected through technology. And I think what we're seeing in our surveys is that they are even more willing to spend time giving back to their community.

We're now going to shift the focus of our conversation to the American Rescue Plan, also known as ARPA, and if you say it fast enough, it almost sounds like AARP, but it's not. Included in the $1.9 Trillion legislative package is $130 Billion in direct flexible aid to counties and cities. Now, as we continue to wrestle with the challenges of the pandemic, mayors and local leaders are making decisions about how to invest ARPA funding while responding to pressing needs and strengthening their communities for the future. I’d now like to invite everyone watching to participate in a poll question we're going to give you using Slido. You should see the instructions on the screen now, and the question is:

“How have residents been in discussions on where to focus your community share of the $130 billion in direct aid to local government under ARPA?”

Mike is going to take a look at the results and give us some insights, and then we're going to ask for the mayors’ perspective.

MIKE WATSON: Thanks, Nancy. Yeah, we're looking at them now and it looks like a plurality of people — though there's some creeping — were initially kind of unsure, but now there's a pretty strong answer around not being involved. There's about 20 percent who are saying folks are involved, but not necessarily the decision-maker, and another 7 percent are saying residents are very involved.

So again, it seems like the general theme that we're getting from these responses is a feeling that residents haven't been that involved in the discussions on where the focus of their community’s share of the $130 billion in aid under ARPA should go.

I know that's not the case in either of your communities, Mayor Benjamin or Mayor Rhodes-Conway, but wanted to see if you have any reactions to what you're seeing on the screen there.

SATYA RHODES-CONWAY: You know, my first reaction honestly, is that I think a number of communities are still figuring out how to handle their ARPA allocations, and so it doesn't surprise me that there's sort of a wide range of responses there, because I think there's a number of places that are still figuring it out.

Here in Madison, we have an adopted a plan via the city council, and I know we'll be talking a little bit more about our process on that, but I do think that communities are taking a bunch of different approaches. One thing that that I think is potentially also true, and it is definitely true here in Madison, is that we relied on feedback and input that we got prior to ARPA being announced to guide some of our decision making around the funding. So cities may be taking a number of approaches to gathering data and community input on this.

STEVE BENJAMIN: And I agree. I think you'd be surprised at how many cities are still really dialoguing even amongst themselves on exactly how to deploy this funding.

Probably the most distressing aspect of that, of that quick poll, is that in each of these respective communities leaders are active members of AARP, and are usually the most active members of the community. So this is a snapshot of what our leaders are feeling, and that means that that just regular everyday citizens who are just dealing with the decisions that we make may feel even that much more disconnected. 

So, I would say this as being a mayor: You know we're always glass half full, and this is an opportunity to encourage each and every one of you to reach out to your mayor, and city council, and county commissioners, and make sure that they understand that there are certain things that you think are a priority, as you step into this new normal.

I'm a big believer that our future is subjective, and that two cities equally positioned, while some make the right decisions right now, will be very different than those that make the wrong decisions, 10 years from now. It's important as Satya mentioned, all the noise that surrounds everything that we all do right now. But we're still dealing with the greatest pandemic since 1918, and across the American South the delta variant is still claiming so many lives. We’re also in the greatest economic disruption. Some of the things that Nancy mentioned around AI and machine learning, we are really watching a restructuring of the global economy, and it certainly affects us on a local level. And also the greatest social unrest that we've seen probably since 1968. And many of our cities are seeing a precipitous increase in crime. Everybody's got a lot on their plate right now.

We've made some decisions around some of our money. It did cause us to do, as Satya mentioned, to kind of go back and look at things. We had a pretty good idea we wanted to send the resources to but as we went through our strategic plan we realized that there's some things that needed to be invested in but a real focus on some issues around equity that were missing, and we had to go back and modify our plans and our spending.

Get involved, get engaged, reach out proactively. Reach out and share your very best ideas as to how we build cities well for people.

NANCY LEAMOND: I wanted to kind of push you both on something, you just discussed the ARPA funding and both of you kind of hinted at some of the investments you are making. If you might say a little bit about kind of how much money came to you and how you are thinking about that I know there are pressures to kind of rebuild um what kind of fell away during the pandemic, I know you're under tremendous pressure in terms of your public health systems, we are here in Maryland, but talk a little bit more about the kinds of investments you've seen making you know, really, as a result of the outreach have done, and not just doctors for the older groups.

Satya, we’ll go to you first.

SATYA RHODES CONWAY: Sure thanks, and you know Madison did not get CARES act funding, we just got the ARPA funding and we're going to receive about $47 million. We could use that entire amount just to replace revenue. That gives you a sense of how hard hit our economy has been and how our revenue sources have been impacted by the pandemic.

We're not doing that, though, and we're going to take about half of that amount to help keep just our basic city services going over the next this well this year and the next year and into 2023 hopefully as well. Then we're going to take the other half of it, approximately, and invest it in our community. We really have two priorities: one is meeting some of the acute immediate needs, and the other is using some of those funds to really focus on the Building Back Better that President Biden talks about and make investments that will hopefully change some of the trajectories that we're on here in our community and make things better in the long-term.

The council adopted a plan that is really investing in five buckets. So, just really briefly, I'm happy to go in more detail if you want, but really briefly those five buckets are violence prevention and youth engagement, homeless support, affordable housing and economic development, and then a category of emerging needs, which includes services to seniors and particularly some planning around senior services and age-friendly communities.

NANCY LEAMOND: Thank you that's very helpful, mayor. Mayor Benjamin?

STEVE BENJAMIN: Thank you for the question. Our allocation was about $29 million. We also did not receive any of the direct allocations that went to cities on the CARES Act fund. There were about 36 or 37 cities that were over 500,000 population and many of us, particularly those led by governors that may not be "pro city," did not participate in much of the direct funding at all under CARES.

We have made decisions. We also could, just as Mayor Rhodes-Conway indicated, could have easily plug the holes in the budget from the incredibly difficult 2020 that everyone had. But we decided we would invest in affordable housing, in facilitating forever housing, which includes senior housing.

We're big believers in investing in the public realm parks and recreation, the place where citizens engage. Looking at a few initiatives, right now. Lighting up a public spaces with WiFi, particularly those that exist in certain census tracts where our citizens may not have that accessibility, and honestly can't meet the affordability needs to access a broadband.

Then we've invested heavily in our employees as well. We decided to actively invest and incentives, of course, to encourage vaccinations and to go back and recognize the commitment of something about frontline first responders. We’re still trying to become a more multimodal city. I’m in an American South city and we are still very much looking to invest in live work play bike walk infrastructure and creative partnerships to help people and products move across the community.

NANCY LEAMOND: Before we open things up to the audience, I just have one final question that builds on what both of you said. Throughout this workshop that we've been conducting, we've tried to give people examples of how to equip themselves with tools resources and strategies for creating change in their communities. With that in mind, what should each of us be ready to do differently as a result of this panel? I guess the real question is how, how we organize to have the most influence on important mayors like both of you? You know I oversee advocacy, so I’m always interested in how we can, how we can influence mayors and others.

SATYA RHODES CONWAY: It's a great question Nancy, and I want to mention one piece of work that we're doing here in Madison that I think is important, and I think that other communities could emulate. We have been conducting a racial equity analysis that took us several months and it's specifically focused on the 50-plus community and on our senior services. That has really helped us to gain an understanding of what older adults are experiencing, particularly during the pandemic, and obviously social isolation tops of the list. We've also gotten a lot of information about the lack of culturally relevant and easily accessible resources. I would encourage everybody who's listening to, as Steve said, engage with your political leadership and your elected officials.

And you know, here in Madison we have a couple of different committees. We have a Committee on Aging and we have the Senior Center board.

It's important for people to think about how their community is engaging in questions around racial equity and broader questions around equity and inclusion, particularly with respect to the senior community. I think the racial equity analysis we did was really illuminating and we will be working to build on the knowledge over the next several years. But you know, we also have a great partnership with outreach, which is our local LGBTQ Center, and to make sure that we're providing the appropriate programming for that community.

I think it's really important for folks to be thinking about how the services in your community are really serving all of your community and to be an advocate for that.

NANCY LEAMOND: Great. Thank you. Mayor Benjamin?

STEVE BENJAMIN: Sure. I'd encourage folks to get involved, and sometimes it might seem clunky but participating in the traditional ways of making sure that your elected officials who work for you, we are accountable to you, know what's important to you. So the good thing about the pandemic is that everyone's gone digital. There are so many more ways that you could physically get to a city council meeting. There are ways to participate now via Zoom or whatever tool your respective municipality may have.

There are a number of efforts in our community, including trying to aggressively diversify our boards and commissions, which is where our systems tend to have the most impact.

This is a time to get involved in, and I would also encourage you, when I say use your traditional sources if it means showing at the city council meeting, or if it means logging into city council meeting and speaking in a citizen comment section or chiming in for committee meetings.

It's so important, because now, those of us who truly do want to hear what the community is thinking and get a sense of the community if we're not actively engaged in the surveys and the outreach as I mentioned, then you will miss 95 percent of the conversation. And you will also miss your opportunity to influence us as well. The days of 30 years ago, as I was growing up, there were three old gentleman, usually older white gentleman, who came on the news at 6:30 at night. We all got the same news, if you didn't get it from a shock jock or maybe a traditional legacy newspaper in the community, we were all usually communicating through the same means. Now everyone engages in so many different platforms.

So, I would encourage you, if you send me a message on Facebook, it is highly unlikely I will see that message. If you reply to a tweet, and if it's a positive reply or even a snarky one, it is highly unlikely that I’ll receive that message.

I want to encourage people get online. If you're in the Columbia metropolitan area, call the mayor's office, so we understand exactly what you're thinking, and then we find other ways to communicate. But it's the different channels of communication, which are so diverse and diffuse right now. I think sometimes I’ll let it go on Facebook and I happen to look at messages and someone reached out to me on a really serious matter and, Facebook might disagree, does not control authentication to the world right now. It's important to reach out directly to us, make us work, hold us accountable, this work for you.

NANCY LEAMOND: That's great advice. Since we're taking questions from the audience, I think I turn back to Mike.

MIKE WATSON: Yes, thanks Nancy. We do have a lot of questions coming in, most of them actually centered around how they can learn from you and advocate with their mayors and city leadership, so we'll get to a few of those in a moment.

So now we're going to get to questions and the first one up, and this is a question for both of you:

What's one thing that worries you for the pandemic recovery period that livable advocates should keep their eye on? And then what's one thing that gives you hope?

Mayor Benjamin let's start with you and then go to mayor Rhodes-Conway.

STEVE BENJAMIN: One thing that worries me, and one thing that gives me hope. The active misinformation and disinformation campaigns discouraging people from protecting themselves, to protecting their community. The reality is that we only come out of a pandemic if we literally come out of it together, and if in fact we decide that we will be our brother's keeper or sister's keeper.

But those active campaigns that now, in the world in which we live, online, you can actually monetize selling misinformation that's literally killing people every single day. That worries me because it's such a huge threshold that you have to overcome before you can even start doing a deep dive into the real disparities that have been completely unveiled and stripped naked by the pandemic and shows all the broken bones in the American body and the global body. Then you have to get over this foolishness. That worries me.

Many of you know I'm a former president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors and a former president of the African American Mayors Association. I am a lifelong president emeritus of the mayor's mutual admiration society.

I believe in mayor's and believe in local leadership. I have been so encouraged by the leadership that my colleagues have displayed over the last year and a half, when at some points in the pandemic, we were literally probably the only, in certain parts of the country, the only functioning level of government actually working to get things done.

I'm very optimistic about what is in store for the future of local leadership, and maybe if we're lucky, we'll get some of you to consider running as well.

MIKE WATSON: Very well said Mayor Benjamin. Mayor Rhodes-Conway do you want to add anything to that?

SATYA RHODES-CONWAY: The thing that worries me most and it's not just the pandemic, but it was really exacerbated during the pandemic and is just the sense of fear and anger that people have in the community, and that that has really poisoned our civic dialogue in some really unfortunate ways. I worry that we're not collectively going to be able to get past that. So that's probably the biggest worry for me. The hope is that we will be able to, as they say, not waste this crisis, but actually take the opportunity to think about the direction that our communities should be growing in.

And, what are the important issues that we have to pay attention to? So just for example here in Madison, you know we, like every other community, have issues around people experiencing homelessness. For 30 years our men's homeless shelter was in church basements and we all knew that that was not adequate at but it wasn't until the pandemic that we actually started to change that.

And so, I hope that my community, that every community, can take advantage of this change moment. It's not one that we wanted, but here we are in it, so let's take advantage of it to change things for the better in the future.

MIKE WATSON: Great comments. We have some questions coming in here, and this is a very tactical question but it's a very important one:

One of the major problems during COVID was identifying seniors and other vulnerable populations, so we could provide needed assistance. Was this a problem in your community and, if so, how did you resolve it?

SATYA RHODES CONWAY: That's a great question and I think it was not a huge problem for us but definitely an issue and, and I want to give a lot of credit to the folks at our senior center that pivoted very quickly, to reach out and try to connect with all seniors in our community, whether that was folks they previously worked with or by working with other nonprofits to catch the people [those groups] were working with. Just making sure that we were engaging with people that were homebound, or newly homebound, because of COVID and offering them programming and services. We delivered devices to people. We set up pen pal relationships. It did take a lot of creativity. I feel like that was a pretty successful effort here in Madison.

STEVE BENJAMIN: The most important thing, I think the most effective thing that we did, and again probably another silver lining of the pandemic, was recognizing that existing community infrastructure was working quite well.

We have an organization here, and I mean the senior resources has the contract to run a Meals on Wheels program, and we quickly realized it was not necessary to try and reinvent the wheel. We have these wonderful nonprofit organizations that exist in different ways and in each community. How do you help them scale up? Although we didn't get the right allocation of CARES money, we run a pretty effective city. We finished nine of 11 years with a budget surplus. We decided we were going to set aside several million dollars to invest into community infrastructure organizations that we were going to have to stand in the gap as we dealt with some of the everyday food insecurity issues. We sent several hundred thousand dollars to senior resources, scaled up their existing connections. We had some wonderful relationships through our parks programs and also our senior center here in the city and helped us. And, of course, some of the resources that the AARP sent our way, we worked to set up an organization, particularly focused in the northern part of the city, that tried to make sure we met community needs.

I think it's always important to realize that the things that really make our cities special, oftentimes, is the nonprofit infrastructure. When you get into times like these, you have the opportunity to truly scale them up and that's what we were able to do with senior resources and we were able to, I forget the final count, but we were able to get hundreds of thousands of meals to people when they needed it most.

MIKE WATSON: Really impressive and important work you just talked about mayor Benjamin. A lot of the challenges you mentioned are actually felt across the age spectrum as well. That's one of the themes I think we're seeing in our questions here, so I’m going to go to our next one:

How can we shift cities focus from primarily young folks to a more inclusive one with 50-plus adults?

SATYA RHODES-CONWAY: So, this is a great question, I mean, I think it comes down to advocacy and you know as Steve indicated earlier, perhaps even running for office yourself. It's important for a lot of different voices to be engaged in government and there's a lot of ways to do that, obviously. Running for office is one of them, but our community has a number of different boards commissions and committees that we're always looking for people to serve on. Your community may have a similar structure or an opportunity to serve in a non-elected role, and I would encourage people to take advantage of that and to bring your perspective to the table as much as possible.

MAYOR BENJAMIN: Run, Run, Run, Run, Run! I agree. I serve as a member of our council. While I am a member of AARP, I know that several of my members are a bit older than I am, I will tell you the value in depth of experience that they bring to every single discussion, life experience is just amazing. It helps shape our community. Probably the most impactful way is exactly as I said. Get involved. You don't have to run if you don't want to. Some people don't want to get in politics right now. But if not as a candidate then, maybe join one of the key commissions that helps us reframe how we shape our cities. It's important that you personally get involved.

MIKE WATSON: That is a great setup for our final question. Both of you are clearly age-friendly champions. We've seen it in your work at the community level and we've heard it here today. We've seen a lot of questions asked today about how we can create more value, so what's the one piece of advice that you would give to a community that is maybe struggling to engage with their mayor and get them to really think about age-friendly. What's that one tip you would give an advocate to really push their message across the age-friendly finish line?

SATYA RHODES-CONWAY: My best advice would be to frame it as broadly as possible because, I'll be honest, what was most appealing to me when I first learned about the age-friendly network, and this is long before I was mayor, was that anything you do in this framework, helps not just folks who are 50-plus but actually helps the whole community. I think that framing, that benefit for the whole community, is really important. You all have heard, I know, of the 880 Cities movement and conversation, and that if we can make our cities work for 8-year-olds and 80-year-olds, they will work for everybody. I think that framework is a very powerful one. I think it's very powerful for encouraging folks to engage with age-friendly work.

By making it clear that it's not just for one demographic, but it's actually for the entire city, and the work that falls under that rubric, and by thinking about including folks that are 50-plus, you’re actually thinking about everybody.

STEVE BENJAMIN: I'd say again that demography is destiny. I would say that every mayor sees the world very differently, as every person does. So if you engage with your mayor, understand how she thinks or how he thinks. There may be an economic discussion. They may have a livability discussion, maybe a focus on significant volunteerism or the gig economy. Focus on what your elected official deems important in their public articulation and then maybe shape your message in that way, so you build some consensus with your elected leader. If they just never get it, consider running.

MIKE WATSON: Great advice for us to end on. Mayor Benjamin, Mayor Rhodes-Conway, Nancy, thank you. This has been wonderful, and I know inspiring. To the people who are watching today, I’m sure we're going to see a lot more age-friendly advocates running and I’m sure we're going to see a lot more letters to their mayor's.

So, thank you again, and thank you so much for lending your time and voice to this topic. It’s time for us to wrap up this workshop this really has been an incredible two days and I want to thank all of you for joining us and engaging so much.

There are too many takeaways and themes for me to recap here but I’ll just highlight a few.

  1. First the wisdom we heard loud and clear from the first presentation from Lynn Ross. The wisdom and the experience and the value that older adults bring to their community.

  2. Second, inclusion and equity. Lynn again from the start, and throughout the panels, we've heard the importance of addressing these as not only an outcome but also a process.

  3. Third, trust. Lynn told us from the get-go of this conference how we should form trust, how we need to take the time to build it, and how we need to take the time to keep it.

  4. Fourth, creativity and cutting through barriers by tapping into people's capacity for storytelling and art making.

  5. Fifth, listening to understand, because nobody knows more than the people living in a community about that place.

  6. Sixth, asking for whom we're building and designing spaces — and then building it around their needs.

  7. Seventh, and finally, engagement. As our keynoter, Lynn Ross, told us from the get-go. When we ensure older adults are meaningfully engaged, we strengthen our communities.

Finally, I would also like to take a moment to do a quick shout out to all of our wonderful speakers, as well as to the planning committee and staff who made this event possible. It's always a danger in naming people because you might leave some out, but I really do want to give special recognition to our incredible team here in the AARP studio, along with Rebecca Delphia and Jack Montrose on the AARP Livable Communities team who developed and designed the program that you've seen here over the last two days.

Thank you so much for joining us. We hope that you've learned a lot from these two days, got some ideas to take back to your community, and have a greater sense of the ways you can engage older adults in your work. Thank you and we look forward to seeing you again soon.

Page published October 2021

Our Free Publications!

See the complete list at

Follow Us

Contact Us

  • Email AARP Livable Communities at

  • Ask about the AARP Livability Index by completing this online form.

  • AARP Members: For questions about your benefits, AARP The Magazine or the AARP Bulletin, visit the AARP Contact Us page or call 1-888-OUR-AARP (1-888-687-2277).