How Local Governments Can Support the Desire to “Age in Community”


AARP advocates planning livable communities that are “great for people of all ages.” This organization encourages states and local governments to prepare for the rapid aging of the U.S. population. It offers an online resource guide and an Age-Friendly Communities Tool Kit, which provides a framework to guide, support, and evaluate, age-friendly initiatives in communities. There are a number of livability policies and practices that local governments can adopt to support the desire to “age in community.”

Community Plans

In Delaware, local governments are required to prepare Comprehensive Plans to plan for future land use and development. It is important that local governments plan in advance to help smooth a demographic transition to an aging community. Arlington, Va. has created an Elder Readiness Plan to support older adults as they “continue to contribute and remain valued members of the community as long as possible.” This plan, created by a task force comprising policy experts and community members, is a “blueprint” for a livable community that serves as a model for other communities. Howard County, Md. is preparing a Master Plan for the Aging Population. This comprehensive planning initiative will consider the types of services, programs, and facilities that will be needed to address the future needs of this segment of the County’s growing population.

Multigenerational Planning

Multigenerational planning is a comprehensive approach to community and economic development that enables people of all ages and abilities to remain active, stay engaged, and lead fulfilling lives. Cornell University’s Planning Across the Generations Project has published a Planning for Multigenerational Communities issue brief. It outlines how planners can successfully adopt multigenerational planning to expand choices for families, increase the independence of people of all ages, and create stronger communities.

Spring 2014 issue of the Delaware Planner, a publication of the Delaware chapter of the American Planning AssociationThe Spring 2014 issue of the Delaware Planner, a publication of the Delaware chapter of the American Planning Association, features an article on Multigenerational Planning in Delaware.  The article advocates the need for planners to understand the principles behind Universal Design and plan for compact, complete, and livable communities that are multigenerational and “great places for all.”

The American Planning Association (APA) provides resources on Aging and Livable Communities recently released an Aging in Community Policy Guide. APA advocates that communities adopt a multigenerational planning approach to ensure that the needs of all residents are met, including older adults that may be at risk of social isolation, failing health, and declining economic well-being. The guide encourages community planners to enhance their effectiveness in planning for the needs of all community members by integrating their work in housing, transportation, zoning, economic development, and health and human services.

In addition, APA recommends interspersing new housing types, such as accessory dwelling units, co-housing and intergenerational housing, within single-family home neighborhoods. Incentive programs should be considered to increase the number of homes built for basic access or are visitable to accommodate visitors of all ages and abilities. Incentives for mixed-income rental housing within infill areas should be encouraged. To preserve the existing housing stock, assistance should be available to older homeowners, who wish to age in community, for home modifications and rehabilitation to improve accessibility. Providing property tax relief and energy assistance programs to elderly homeowners also can improve housing affordability.

Land Use Plans and Policies

Land use plans and policies are an important component to successful aging in community. A local government comprehensive plan can provide a framework for growth and development that supports “lifecycle communities.”AARP defines these as “communities that are sufficiently flexible in physical infrastructure and service and social resources to accommodate the changing needs of all residents as they age.

Multigenerational planning practices and zoning ordinances that allow for a variety of housing types, market segments, and mixed uses can make communities more livable for people of all ages and abilities. Municipal zoning ordinances should allow for a diverse housing stock that provide a wide variety of housing types, sizes, densities, and costs. APA recommends that communities can adopt zoning ordinances, form-based codes, and policies that support mixed-use development and provide for residential living options that are in proximity to services for daily living. APA encourages planners to incorporate community design that improves the accessibility and mobility of people of all ages—including older adults that may have mobility challenges as they age. Communities should provide a regulatory framework that is sufficiently flexible to accommodate the changing social service, health care, daily living, and transportation needs of all residents as they age, lose their ability to drive, or become less mobile.

Transportation Policies

According to an article on Aging Places, without access to affordable travel options, older adults who no longer drive make 15 percent fewer trips to the doctor, 59 percent fewer trips to shop or eat out, and 65 percent fewer trips to visit friends and family than drivers of the same age. Land use and transportation planning can be better integrated to increase transportation options, enhance walkable destinations, and provide a mix of residential and commercial development that can enhance access to daily living services.

Dangerous by Design 2014: Delaware, a report from Smart Growth America’s National Complete Streets Coalition, states that road design, heavy traffic, high speeds is largely to blame for pedestrian fatalities. Between 2003 and 2012, 194 people were killed while walking in Delaware. This represents 15.9% of the 1,223 traffic-related fatalities in the state during this period. Delaware’s overall Pedestrian Danger Index (PDI) is 103.55, which places it 6th nationally. People age 65-plus make up 13.7 percent of the state’s population, but accounted for 16.2 percent of its pedestrian fatalities from 2003 to 2010.

The National Complete Streets Coalition urges local governments to adopt complete streets policies to ensure that “people of all ages and abilities are able to safely move along and across streets in a community, regardless of how they are traveling.” Complete streets have several components that work to reduce these barriers that aging populations face which reduce their ability to age safely in their communities. In addition, AARP’s report on Complete Streets for an Aging America suggests that communities consider the needs of older people in their multimodal street planning and adopt local Complete Streets policies. While over 80 states and local governments have adopted Complete Streets policies, less than one-third have implemented improvements to make transportation infrastructure (e.g., crosswalks, signalization, illuminated walkways, more visible signage, streetscaping amenities, connectivity) better meet the needs of older adults who often have visual or physical challenges. Delaware local governments should evaluate the extent to which their community vision, plans, policies, design standards, and facility maintenance practices are consistent with and support complete-streets principles. For more information, explore IPA’s Complete Streets section within its online Toolkit for a Healthy Delaware.

Housing and Community Design

Built environment barriers should be addressed to enhance mobility for people of all ages and abilities. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers resources and information on ways to improve the built environment for healthy aging. It suggests the need to design communities that are both pedestrian- and transit-friendly. Housing needs to be convenient to community destinations and accessible by multiple modes of transportation. Transportation decisions affect land-use patterns, and land-use decisions impact transportation systems. Linking both transportation and land-use planning can foster aging in community and the ability for older adults to enjoy healthy lifestyles.

Access to Healthy Foods

Healthy foods must be accessible, and affordable to enhance the health of a community. For the millions of Americans living in food deserts a healthy diet is difficult to achieve. A policy brief by IPA suggests key solutions for addressing access to healthy foods. These include providing venues for farmers’ markets and supporting community and urban gardening. Providing locally grown, affordable produce improves public accessibility and encourages healthy eating habits. Local governments can also assist mobility-limited residents, who are unable to walk or drive to farmer’s market, by supporting in-home and community-based nutrition programs such as Meals on Wheels.

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