5 Facts about the Age-Friendly Communities Initiative

In SCOPE’s last newsletter, we asked our readers to contribute their voices to the Age-Friendly Sarasota initiative by taking a survey distributed by Kathy Black, Ph.D., a gerontologist, professor, and leader of Age-Friendly Sarasota on behalf of The Patterson Foundation.  Although I helped put the survey on our website and into our newsletter, I did not look that deeply into the initiative. As a recent college graduate, I wrote it off as something that does not pertain to me. However after doing some research about what age-friendly means, its importance to my life became evident. Aging is something that happens to almost everyone, and it would be nice if my community is accessible to me by the time I am older. In addition, our cities and neighborhoods must allow for active participation of people of all ages and abilities in order to be sustainable in the years to come. Here are 5 facts that will help you understand what age-friendly means, and what Age-Friendly Sarasota aims to accomplish.

1. The movement to create an “age-friendly world” was created by the World Health Organization to meet the challenge of urbanization and population aging.

The project was conceived in June 2005 at the opening session of the XVIII IAGG World Congress of Gerontology and Geriatrics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. It gained immediate interest because of the awareness of two global phenomena happening simultaneously: population aging and urbanization.

The world is getting older. By 2050, there will be more elderly people in the world than children (aged 0-14) for the first time in human history1. At the same time, cities are growing rapidly. In 2007, half of the global population lived in cities. The World Health Organization estimates that by 2030 that number will be at 60%. Currently, the proportion of older people residing in cities roughly matches that of young people (around 80%). The realization of these two simultaneous phenomena led the WHO to recognize that we must make cities more physically and socially accessible to older people, in order to make them sustainable.

2. The initiative drives us to rethink what aging means.

The idea behind making cities and communities “age-friendly” is that older people are resources, not burdens. From this enlightened mindset, we are inspired to change our social and built environment in a way that enables older people to actively continue to participate in the community. This consists of a wide range of efforts including making buildings more accessible, having reliable and affordable public transportation, having employment and volunteer opportunities available to older people, and having facilities where people can gather and socialize.

Enabling this active participation would, in turn, benefit the entire community. Families experience less stress if older people have access to adequate health services and community support, the community benefits from participation of older people in volunteer and paid work, and the local economy benefits from their patronage.

3. The Age-Friendly guide and checklist was created using a bottom-up participatory approach

This is the part of the initiative that I found most exciting. In creating the guide for what an age-friendly city should look like, the World Health Organization talked to actual people (ages 60 and over) about what they thought should change about their cities. If only this approach was used more often!

Research was conducted in lower and middle income areas in 33 different cities in both developed and developing countries. In total, there were 158 focus groups with 1485 participants. The WHO also held focus groups of caregivers and service providers (765 in total).

Participants of the focus groups discussed eight different topics, which are known as the Age-Friendly City Domains of Livability. These topics are: outdoor spaces and buildings, transportation, housing, social participation, respect and social inclusion, civic participation and employment, communication and information, and community support and health services. Based on what the participants said about each one of these topic areas, the WHO created the “Checklist of Essential Features of Age-Friendly Cities”

4. Sarasota was the first county in Florida to join the Network of Age-Friendly Communities.

The World Health Organization has a global network of age-friendly communities that consists of 210 cities worldwide. The national affiliate for the program in the U.S. is the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP). The AARP has its own network of age-friendly communities that is modeled after WHO, which has a membership of 56 cities nationwide. The networks are different entities, but they have similar criteria.

The purpose of creating a network, in both cases (AARP and WHO) is to link participating cities together to share information and best practices. Network members get organizational guidance, assessment tools, information, invitations to trainings, and recognition. Sarasota County joined the AARP network of age-friendly communities on February 24th, 2015. It was the first county in Florida to join the AARP network and apply to join the WHO network.

5. Obtaining and maintaining the “age-friendly” designation by the WHO is a cyclical multi-step process.

Age-Friendly Sarasota is currently in the planning phase of creating an age-friendly community. This involves conducting a two year long baseline assessment of the County’s age-friendly assets and future aspirations of older people in the community.  The results of this assessment will be used to create a roadmap for next steps. The diagram below illustrates the process of obtaining and maintaining an age-friendly designation by the World Health Organization.

cycle
cycle

To participate in the assessment of our age-friendly assets take this survey conducted by Kathy Black. The most important thing we can do now is lend our voices so that they can be considered as we move forward.

I believe that as Sarasota moves toward being more age-friendly, it will also become more youth friendly. If we are successful in improving each domain of livability, our streets will become safer and more walkable, our public transportation will be more reliable, and our housing will be more affordable. These are all facets of not only an age-friendly community, but a healthy and vibrant one as well. If we commit to this effort, our county has a very bright future.