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5 Questions for Betsy Hodges

Yes, the winters are very cold, but Minneapolis's mayor says the city is a very fine and increasingly fair place for older adults (and people of all ages) to reside year-round

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"Minneapolis has a tremendous amount to offer residents no matter the season — or temperature," says Mayor Betsy Hodges

As home to more than 400,000 residents, Minneapolis is the larger twin of the Twin Cities. (Neighboring St. Paul, Minnesota's state capital, weighs in with a population just under 300,000.)

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Although the city's winters are frigid and wet (the average annual snowfall is 55 inches), Betsy Hodges, who has been mayor since January 2014, thinks Minneapolis is a great place for older adults to age-in-place or move to. In addition to having the best city parks system in the nation (according to The Trust for Public Land), Hodges wants Minneapolis to be among the fairest places to live in the U.S. "Growth, equity and running a great city. These three goals are what I focus my time on each and every day," she explains on her city hall web page and discusses here.

1. Minneapolis joined the AARP Network of Age-Friendly Communities this year. What inspired you and the city to undertake age-friendly work?

Part of what makes Minneapolis such a vibrant place to live and work is that we have active residents of all ages. Minneapolitans are living longer and healthier lives, and as a result the desire for people to remain in their communities is growing, which is wonderful. As of the 2010 census, Minneapolis had 92,000 people age 50 and older, and these numbers will continue to increase dramatically over the next 20 years. As we transform into a 21st century city we must grow what makes us great, and that includes being a viable living space for all generations.

2. Minneapolis has been taking steps to become age-friendlier with the "Minneapolis for a Lifetime" strategy, which was adopted in 2013. In developing that strategy you've been very deliberate about gathering input from citizens. Did you learn anything through that process that surprised you?

We went to the community with an open mind, striving to hear from older adults in the city's many diverse communities. People shared their vision of a Minneapolis that would work for them as they age. They offered great suggestions for improvement and highlighted what was already working. What was truly inspiring and affirming, so I guess was a surprise, was how grateful everyone was that we came and directly asked for their input. A constant theme in every community discussion, which I couldn't agree more with, was that older adults are assets to the city and that they're a resource of talent, wisdom, economic drivers and stability. That's why we're so committed to keeping older generations as part of the city.

Mayor Betsy Hodges Of Minneapolis Stands In Street Talking To Local Residents, Neighborhood, Livable Communities, Interview

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Mayor Hodges speaks to residents at a National Night Out block party.

3. What are some of the goals for making sure that people of all ages can live and thrive in Minneapolis? What challenges does the city face in achieving those goals?

Minneapolis is on the cusp of transforming into a leading 21st century city. Our economy is growing, we have a pristine environment and people are safe, healthy and have equitable opportunities for success and happiness. During my campaign I put forth the vision of One Minneapolis, which is a city where all people, regardless of circumstance, have opportunities for success at every stage of life. The Minneapolis for a Lifetime strategy supports that vision. There's an overall push to create a city that's a premier location for older residents and visitors by offering comprehensive housing options, easy access to all places and amenities and opportunities for civic engagement, leisure, entertainment and lifelong learning.

One challenge we do have is our housing stock. We want to grow as a city, but we realize we need to explore new and innovative community planning models that incorporate the needs of all generations, including providing affordable and accessible housing that can accommodate an aging population.

4. One goal of age-friendly work is social equity and inclusion. A great deal of attention is typically placed on efforts that impact younger age groups, such as to close the achievement gap and expand employment opportunities. What areas focus on older citizens in Minneapolis, including among the city's many ethnic and cultural groups?

I believe that direct input from Minneapolis' communities is critical to setting and achieving citywide goals. The Minneapolis for a Lifetime strategy sought out diverse and non-English speaking older adults to provide input into all phases of the strategy's development.

As the Minneapolis Advisory Committee on Aging launches into the development of action steps for 2016 to 2017, it will continue to reach out to older people in culturally specific and diverse communities. Minneapolis is also ramping up efforts to diversify our boards and commissions and create spaces for all residents to have a voice at decision-making tables.

5. It's likely most people don't equate Minneapolis as a place people stay after retiring — especially in the winter. What makes Minneapolis a place where people over age 50 do or would want to live?

Minneapolis has a tremendous amount to offer residents no matter the season — or temperature. We're focused on the well-being of our residents and striving to ensure that our natural and built spaces work together to create a highly livable and enjoyable environment.  

We're at the top of several national rankings for having a thriving community that is walkable, bike-friendly and healthy for all stages of life. We have the nation's No. 1 park system, and we have top amenities that we're adding to with the reworking of the pedestrian- and transit-friendly Nicollet Mall, the development of Downtown East Commons Park and a new U.S. Bank Stadium, to name just a few projects. We have a growing economy that's attracting more and more people downtown. We also have a restaurant scene that's bursting at the seams, with talent from James Beard winners to skilled chefs who are bringing their native foods to Minneapolis.  

People in Minneapolis are also well connected with their communities, neighborhoods and city systems. It's completely understandable to me that more residents want to remain in Minneapolis as they age and that we're attracting older Minnesotans from across the state to live here as well.

Will Phillips is the state director of AARP Minnesota and a Minneapolis resident.

Published October 2015

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