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Women's Lifestyle Magazine

City Advances Work to Become an Age-Friendly Community

Feb 26, 2019 11:32AM ● By WLMagazine
The city of Grand Rapids is a step closer to becoming an age-friendly community thanks to the efforts of a mayoral advisory council and several work groups. The city is entering the next phase of the age-friendly designation process, which includes developing an age-friendly community action plan. This follows a three-year effort by City staff and community stakeholders to develop a vision, goals and recommendations for how Grand Rapids can be more age-friendly.

Virginia (Ginnie) Smith, who serves as the City’s age-friendly coordinator, provided an update on the work to the City Commission this morning. Smith said implementation of the action plan and a follow-up report would be among the final steps toward designation as an age-friendly community.

The action plan will identify improvements to four focus areas that can be made over a two- to three-year period. The focus areas are outdoor spaces and buildings, housing, transportation, and communication and information. When complete, the community action plan and the city’s designation as an age-friendly community – in combination with the neighborhood planning efforts taking place in Heartside, Southtown and South Division – will guide the next citywide master planning effort.

“Through these efforts, individuals who in the past may not have felt welcomed or invited into a planning process are able to engage in a way that is personal and meaningful to them,” Smith said. “Reaching out to disenfranchised and vulnerable populations within our community provides us with critical information on how best to build relationships and trust. We hope this helps these individuals feel comfortable and confident to share their thoughts when we engage our entire community about our city’s future.”

Grand Rapids first explored the possibility of becoming a World Health Organization-designated age-friendly community in 2015 following Commissioner Ruth Kelly’s attendance at an AARP Conference. The following year, community listening sessions on the topic hosted by the City, AARP and the Area Agency on Aging of Western Michigan attracted more than 300 people. A survey of residents ages 50 and older identified key areas of interest and showed a large numbers of respondents believed that remaining in their homes in Grand Rapids was extremely or very important.

In 2017, Planning Department staff launched a listening tour of 23 events that attracted more than 300 attendees and generated 2,000 community comments. The events and community feedback helped staff narrow the areas of focus. In 2018, the City Commission unanimously approved seeking formal designation for the city as an age-friendly community and creating an advisory council to seek input from diverse stakeholders. The advisory council and work groups met throughout the year to help inform the process and develop goals and recommendations for each of the four focus areas.

The World Health Organization's Age-friendly Cities and Communities program launched in 2006 to help cities and countries prepare for the rapid aging of populations and increased urbanization. It does this by paying increased attention to the environmental, economic and social factors that influence the health and well-being of older adults. By doing so, these communities are better equipped to become great places and lifelong homes for people of all ages. The AARP Network of Age-Friendly Communities launched in April 2012 to support the program within the U.S.

The age-friendly designation is a five-year process, which includes community engagement, documentation of support by City leadership, development of an action plan and demonstrated implementation.