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Age Friendly Cities project continues with community conversations

A five-year community-based research project to make Bowling Green more age friendly will enter its next phase this spring with a series of community conversations.

The project is part of the World Health Organization’s Age Friendly Cities and Communities Initiative. In 2012, Bowling Green became one of the first seven cities in the United States – and the only city in south – to become a member of the WHO Global Network of Age-Friendly Cities and Communities. The network has 105 members in 19 countries.

“This truly is a project that has international reach,” said Dr. Dana Burr Bradley, director of WKU’s Center for Aging. “The world really is watching, they want to know how we are doing it in the south, in rural communities like ours.”

WKU’s Center for Aging, the City of Bowling Green’s Neighborhood Division and AARP Kentucky are the convening organizations for the project and for the upcoming Ask Bowling Green community conversations.

As part of a 50 Over 50 Citizens Academy last October, 27 people were trained as community experts and to help collect data and develop an assessment plan for the project. Members of the group reunited Tuesday afternoon (Jan. 22) at WKU’s Knicely Conference Center to learn more about this spring’s Ask Bowling Green sessions.

“AARP is really interested in Age Friendly Cities and in livable communities because this is about all people,” said Patrice Blanchard, associate director of AARP Kentucky.

This spring’s small group discussions will held throughout the community and will brainstorm answers to the question of “What kind of community do you want to live in?”

“In a way it’s a visioning exercise,” Blanchard said. “We’re not trying to be problem solvers, we’re not trying to identify what’s wrong, we’re trying to look at what’s right in your best dreams and then helping make that happen.”

In addition in May, WKU’s Center for Aging will host a “Gathering” of service providers and organizations that work with older adults to share information, ideas and challenges.

“Why should Bowling Green care about being age friendly?” Dr. Bradley asked. “In less than two decades there are going to be more seniors over 65 than there are people under 18. One in five people will be over 65. Right now, every eight seconds someone turns 65 in this country.”

Dr. Bradley noted, however, that community aging is an opportunity, not a crisis.

The project provides an opportunity for all community members to share their concerns and ideas; for WKU students to gain experience research experience as they collect and analyze data; for economic and business development; and for the community to identify its age friendly strengths and challenges.

“Anytime you can have community folks involved in thinking about their vision for the community and getting that feedback from them, I think it gives our elected leaders, staff and other leaders direction,” Neighborhood Services Coordinator Karen Foley said.

The Age Friendly Cities Initiative looks at eight domains – outdoor space and buildings, transportation, communication and information, housing, respect and social inclusion, social participation, civic participation and employment, and community support and health services.

The data and information collected this spring will provide a baseline assessment of age-friendliness and the groups will develop an action plan to move forward, she said.

As a requirement of the Age Friendly Cities Initiative, the project must involve older adults in the phases of the project. “Older adults are the experts in what make a city age friendly,” Dr. Bradley said.

Being age friendly isn’t just about older adults, Blanchard said. For example, a curb that may present mobility issues for older adults also could be an issue for mothers pushing a stroller, she said.

“It’s about making the community better for all of us,” Blanchard said.

Citizens Academy member John Warnhoff said the World Health Organization project is vital as society ages. “We’re all different people because of ethnic background, because of personal life experiences,” he said, “but if we can combine all that and integrate it, then we produce a better community and better world.”

Want to learn more?

Contact: Dana Burr Bradley, (270) 745-2356.

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