By Ron Mori
(Originally published in the Dec. 16, 2016-Jan. 26, 2017 Holiday Issue of Pacific Citizen.)
You probably won’t find a more diverse population of 3 million people than the AARP members of California. But most Californians age 50 and older share some very important things in common, and the results also track with what JACL members told us at the National Convention two years ago.
Almost all have a deep desire to remain independent when they get older.
They want to continue to live securely in their homes and communities and never have to move into an institution.
They want to participate in the full range of community life, and they want their contributions to be valued.
To achieve these goals, they need to live in communities that offer the right blend of support — from transportation and other services to appropriate housing and community design. We call them “age-friendly” or “livable” communities. There is no one formula for “age-friendliness,” but there are common elements Joe Coughlin, founder of AgeLab, a research institute at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and now an AARP board member, said age-
friendliness or livability basically means “being able to get around and do things.”
We’re talking about visible traffic signs, handrails, one-story living and no-step entry, sidewalks you can actually walk on and crosswalks that allow you to cross the street safely, public transportation, bus stops with benches, libraries and parks that are easily accessible.
Naturalist John Muir observed: “When we try to pick out anything by itself, we often find it hitched to everything else in the universe.” Someone less renowned said, “Damn it. I shouldn’t have to be an Olympic sprinter to be able to cross the street safely!”
Both statements apply to age-friendly communities. Everything is interconnected.
Mobility is a good example. If you can’t navigate city streets, sidewalks and crosswalks, or have convenient access to public transit, how can you get to the other services you need — like healthcare, jobs, shopping and recreation?
And age-friendliness is not just about helping seniors. A safe, well-maintained street is good not only for an older person, but also for a young parent pushing a stroller — or a student biking to a job after school.
Secure, well-maintained parks and recreation areas encourage walking, sports and other exercise that keeps us all healthier. Land-use policies that promote an accessible mix of business, cultural and recreational facilities attract people of all ages and enhance community life for all.
Age-friendliness is something that local communities — often in partnership with the private sector and state governments — must shape and direct. We know that each community has its own needs and priorities.
So, AARP has established a nationwide “Network of Age-Friendly Communities” to work with local and state leaders across the nation to develop their own age-friendly planning practices and policies.
Participation in the AARP network enrolls communities in the World Health Organization’s worldwide “Age-Friendly Cities and Communities Program,” which offers connections to a global network.
More than 125 communities nationwide have joined the AARP network, along with major cities such as Atlanta, Boston and Los Angeles, representing a total of more than 56 million people.
For more information about the AARP network, visit www.aarp.org/agefriendly. AARP has also created a webpage that is filled with useful information on age-friendliness and livability at www.aarp.org/livable-communities.
Ron Mori is a board member for the Washington, D.C., JACL chapter and manager of community, states and national affairs — multicultural leadership for AARP.