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AARP Disaster Recovery Tool Kit: Part 1

How to rebuild a town, city or neighborhood to be a livable community for people of all ages

Livable Communities and Community Rebuilding  

Before Photo Of Street With Cars, Renovation, Disaster Recovery Toolkit, Livable Communities

Photo courtesy of WALC Institute (

BEFORE "REVISIONING": A roadway in Arlington, Virginia

A livable community is safe and secure and has affordable and varied housing and transportation options, as well as supportive community features and services. Once in place, these resources enhance a resident’s personal independence and ability to participate in the community’s civic, economic and social life.

By 2030, one out of every five adults in the U.S. will be age 65 or older. (That’s more than 70 million people!) As the U.S. population ages, the importance of community and workplace features that promote physical independence and increase community engagement becomes more apparent and essential.

Innovative design and modifications, as well as technological advances, can allow people of varying ages and physical abilities to live more independent and meaningful lives. The physical design of workplaces, communities and facilities can greatly enhance individual independence, dignity and choice. The availability of accessible features, buildings, housing, road design, transportation methods and supportive services influences whether an older person can remain in the community, as well as the types of activities in which he or she can participate.

AARP Livable Communities supports the efforts of communities to become great places for all ages. We believe communities need safe, walkable streets, a range of quality housing and transportation options, access to key services (from grocery stores to medical care) and opportunities to participate in community activities.

Our work is driven by research that shows the vast majority of people age 45 and older want to stay in their homes and communities for as long as possible.

Well-designed, livable communities promote better health and sustain economic growth — and they make for happier, healthier residents of every age, in all life stages.

After Street Proposal, Rendered Drawing, Brick Road, Dedicated Bike Lane, Pedestrian Friendly, Renovation, Livable Communities, Disaster Recovery Toolkit

Image courtesy of the WALC Institute (

AFTER: A photovision of what the same roadway could be designed to look like.

Features of an Age-Friendly Community

An age-friendly community encourages active aging by optimizing opportunities for health, participation and security in order to benefit the quality of life of people as they age. A city or community’s landscape, buildings, transportation system and housing stock contribute to confident mobility, healthy behavior, social participation and self-determination or, conversely, to fearful isolation, inactivity and social exclusion. A wide range of opportunities for age-integrated as well as age-targeted social participation fosters strong social connections and personal empowerment.

Empowerment and self-worth are reinforced by a culture that recognizes, respects and includes older people. Relevant information in appropriate formats contribute to personal empowerment, as well as to healthy types of behavior. Accessible and well-coordinated health services have an obvious influence on the health status and health behavior of older adults.

Although opportunities for paid work in urban settings are related to the economic determinants of active aging, more important still are policies that reduce economic inequalities in accessing all of the community’s structures, services and opportunities.

Design for diversity has emerged as a prime characteristic of an age-friendly community. It should be normal in an age-friendly community for the natural and built environment to anticipate users with different capacities instead of designing for the mythical “average” (i.e., young) person. For instance:

  • An age-friendly community emphasizes enablement rather than disablement
  • An age-friendly community is friendly for people of all ages and is not just "elder-friendly"
  • In an age-friendly community, information materials and communication technologies suit diverse perceptual, intellectual and cultural needs
  • In an age-friendly community, public spaces and structures are accessible

The AARP Network of Age-Friendly Communities

AARP Livable Communities’ signature program, the AARP Network of Age-Friendly Communities, encourages, cities, counties, towns and villages to prepare for the rapid aging of the U.S. population by paying increased attention to the environmental, economic and social factors that influence the health and well-being of older adults.

The AARP network is an affiliate of the World Health Organization's Age-Friendly Cities and Communities Program, an international effort launched in 2006 to help cities prepare for rapid population aging and the parallel trend of urbanization. That program has more than 1,000 participating communities worldwide.

The AARP Network of Age-Friendly Communities was launched in April 2012. The program provides a framework that works well both for addressing aging at the community level as well as recovery efforts that will serve people of all ages for the years to come. You can find the current member list at

AARP Disaster Recovery Tool Kit Contents

This tool kit is a collaboration of the Federal Emergency Management Administration and AARP Livable Communities, represented by senior program advisor Jeanne Anthony. The tool kit was published in January 2015 with portions updated in September 2017.

Stay Informed — For Free!

Each issue of the award-winning AARP Livable Communities e-Newsletter contains a mix of inspiring examples, community resources and information about livability efforts from places near and far. Subscribe today!

AARP Livable Communities e-Newsletter
Three issues of the AARP Livable Communities Weekly E-Newsletter