How AARP Helps City Leaders Build Communities for All Ages

This is a guest post by Nancy LeaMond of AARP. In the above photo, hackers and community members collaborate during the City of Seattle’s “City for All” technology hackathon. (Credit: Michael B. Maine)

In his address at Harvard University’s 2017 commencement ceremony, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said, “Change starts local. Even global changes start small — with people like us.” This concept neatly encapsulates the work that AARP is doing to make the places that we live great for people of all ages.

Our cities and towns are the places where we, as Americans, are figuring out how to best address the needs of an aging population. Today, there are approximately 46 million people in the United States over age 65, and that number that will grow over the next 15 years to 73 million. That’s one out of every five people nationwide.

Rising to the challenge of this “demography is destiny” future requires change. The good news is that the things that make it easier for older Americans to stay in their homes and communities (where we know they want to be) also support the population writ large.

As it turns out, whatever our age, we ALL want the same things: safe, affordable housing and transportation options; good health for ourselves, our loved ones and our environment; opportunities to learn, support our families and enjoy our lives; a connection with our neighbors, and a government that is responsive to our needs.

For nearly a decade, AARP has promoted local change to build communities where people of all ages can thrive. We work in partnership with residents, community leaders and public officials of all stripes in close to 300 towns and cities across the country. Much of this work is done through the AARP Network of Age-Friendly Communities, which today comprises nearly 200 communities representing more than 65 million people.

As I travel around the country talking to community leaders, AARP staff and volunteers, I am heartened by the progress we are making and the can-do spirit that is alive and well at the local level. But sometimes the first step toward making a difference in a community can be the most difficult.

AARP Community Challenge

Effective, lasting change requires a deliberative and time-intensive process in order for it to reflect the needs of residents. But, there are also benefits to starting small and acting fast. Having success with something modest can be a good first step that helps build momentum for bigger things to come.

With that in mind, AARP recently launched its first-ever Community Challenge grant competition. The goal is to fund short-term local projects that can lead to meaningful change in one of three areas: improving a community’s built environment to benefit all ages and abilities; expanding opportunities for all residents (e.g., jobs, volunteerism, education, and training); or, driving community engagement and interaction across a diverse range of residents.

In the spirit of “quick wins,” we announced the competition at the end of May, and all projects will be completed by the beginning of November. AARP is providing a total of $785,000 to 91 projects across all 50 states and the District of Columbia. The average grant is around $8,500, and there are a lot of really interesting projects that requested less than $5,000 — proof that catalytic action looks different in every community and comes in all shapes and sizes.

A few of the projects that AARP is proud to fund include:

  • Yavapai Regional Transit Inc. in Chino Valley, Ariz. will make transportation options more accessible by installing an ADA-compliant pad and walk way at a transit station.
  • Mount Washington Valley Housing Coalitionin Conway, N.H., will launch an “Accessorize the Valley” campaign to spread the word about the benefits of accessory dwelling units (ADUs) – small, independent housing units inside or on the lot of a house that can be home to downsizing empty nesters, an aging parent, an adult child or a paying tenant.
  • Habitat for Humanity Monterey Bay in Santa Cruz, Calif. will help older, low-income homeowners build ADA-compliant ADUs.
  • The City of Oconomowoc in Wis. turned an alleyway into a corridor to connect the main street of the town with a nearby lakefront.
  • The District 6 Planning Council in Saint Paul, Minn. will install five permanent multilingual “message centers” to help engage and inform the North End’s diverse community about events and other important issues.
  • The City of Seattle hosted a hackathon from September 22 to 24 (coinciding with the National Day for Civic Hacking) focused on creating technologies that can help Seattle be “A City for All” (featured image at top).

Learn More

Interested in learning more? Go to the AARP Livable Communities website to find information about all the winning projects. While you are there, be sure to peruse the many tools and resources that we’ve created to help local leaders bring change to their communities, including our award-winning “Where We Live” book series which features leading examples from across the country. Stay on top of the latest news and trends with our award-winning newsletter, and learn more about the AARP Network of Age-Friendly Communities.

Finally, join AARP at the National League of Cities’ City Summit for a solutions session on Thursday, November 16, 11-11:45 AM. I’ll be joining city leaders for a conversation about creative, inspiring ideas that make communities more livable for people of all ages.


About the Author
Nancy LeaMond
Nancy LeaMond is Executive Vice President and Chief Advocacy & Engagement Office at AARP.  Follow her on Twitter @NancyLeaMond.