By Jane King
According to a recent survey of Alexandrians completed by AARP, the majority of residents age 50 and above want to stay in the city as they age. But many of us may wonder what we might want or need if we choose to live here for the rest of our lives.
What may be surprising is the broad array of community characteristics essential for making a community age friendly — both for older and younger residents.
To assure a comprehensive planning approach to enhancing age friendliness, the city has joined the National Age-Friendly Community Network. AARP, working with the World Health Organization, sponsors the network, which is a robust program for supporting communities to develop a plan for a livable community for all ages.
Alexandria is the first community in Virginia to be accepted as a member. The requirement for joining is the agreement by the elected head of government to submit an age-friendly plan to AARP within two years. The mayor, with the unanimous consent of city council, submitted a letter pledging to do so.
Over the next year, the Alexandria Commission on Aging will develop the plan, in consultation with city council and the support of the staff of the department of community and human services. AARP’s role is strictly advisory.
AARP and the WHO designated eight domains as crucial elements of an age-friendly community. They include:
• Outdoor spaces and buildings address the safety and accessibility for all outdoor spaces and buildings;
• Transportation encompasses the need for a variety of mobility options for the many who do not drive;
• Housing addresses the need for affordable, accessible housing that supports aging in place;
• Social participation acknowledges the great importance of continued social engagement;
• Respect and social inclusion seeks to assure that all are treated with dignity;
• Civic participation and employment includes the need to support those seeking work;
• Communication and information include robust outreach to inform residents about the health and social services available to them;
• Community and health services cover the requirement for affordable, accessible services.
As Alexandria residents, we are fortunate that many of our community leaders are knowledgeable about the impact of the great growth in the aging population and the enhanced longevity that many of us will enjoy.
Our elected leaders and local government play a major role in planning for accommodating the needs of older residents. But in fact, planning an age-friendly community takes the broadest possible engagement of the entire community, including faith-based institutions, nonprofit organizations, civic associations, businesses — and especially important, older residents themselves.
The city commission on aging plans to be as inclusive as possible in its outreach to residents. It will emphasize the importance of communicating with Alexandria’s many diverse communities.
The commission plans to host listening sessions in the near future. It also welcomes the assistance of any residents or stakeholders. Please contact Debbie Ludington at the division of aging and adult services at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
The writer is a member of the Alexandria Commission on Aging.