By Jane King
As we grow older, our focus turns to assuring that high-quality, affordable health care is available where we live. What we may overlook is the fact that every aspect of community life can influence our ability to continue to live independently and comfortably.
When members of the Alexandria Commission on Aging became aware of the AARP/World Health Organization Network of Age-Friendly Communities, they were excited about the possibility of joining. They knew that, through the network, they would have the
framework for developing a strategic plan that encompasses the characteristics of
a community that benefits all ages.
In June 2016, with the consent of the mayor (and unanimous consent from city council), Alexandria applied to and was accepted in the network (the first in Virginia), and gained access to a national forum for the exchange of information, ideas and programs. Alexandria then had two years to develop an Age-Friendly Plan, which the Commission on Aging had decided to undertake as volunteers. The plan was submitted to council and approved, again unanimously, in May. AARP approved the plan in June.
The city, in 2012, adopted a “Strategic Plan on Aging, 2013 – 2017, The Alexandria of Our Future: A Livable Community for All Ages.” The plan, developed by the Commission on Aging, is an important continuation of the work to advance Alexandria’s accommodation of the needs of its older residents.
AARP/WHO designates eight domains as the crucial elements of an age-friendly community. The domains include outdoor spaces and buildings, transportation, housing, social participation, respect and social inclusion, civic participation and employment, communication and information and, finally, community and health services.
Over the past two years, the Commission on Aging, focusing on the eight domains,
conducted a variety of activities as part of developing the plan. Committees of the Commission worked to assess the needs of older adults and adults with disabilities. The commission and Senior Services of Alexandria conducted many listening sessions with members of the public, older adults who participate in various programs and Department of Community and Human Services staff who serve older adults and adults with disabilities.
AARP conducted a 500-person phone survey of Alexandrians who were 50 and older focusing on the domains of livability. In November 2017, the Commission on Aging hosted a day-long workshop to elicit participants’ assessment of needs and priorities in housing, transportation, health and civic engagement. The workshop participants included representatives of service providers, nonprofit organizations, transportation officials, residential facilities, members of faith communities and local government staff.
The commission selected 17 goals to pursue from 2019 to 2021, with the assistance of city staff, city nonprofits, businesses, the faith community and others. To address Alexandria’s diversity, the plan emphasizes the importance of outreach to all residents about the services available to them. Affordable housing and assisted living, safe streets and walkways, enhanced opportunities for employment and improved mental health care are just some of the important goals in the plan.
Jane King is chair of the Alexandria Commission on Aging’s strategic planning committee.