EPA National Community Recognition Program
Major Metropolitan Area: Atlanta Regional Commission Livability and Aging Programs
The Atlanta Regional Commission (ARC) serves as the Metropolitan Planning Organization and Area Agency on Aging for the 10-county metropolitan Atlanta region, whose population is 4 million. The ARC has put together a series of programs and resources to address the rapid suburbanization and growing aging population in the area, in hopes of increasing livability for citizens of all ages.
The ARC emphasizes the impact of community design on the livability of an area for older adults. In particular, the ARC advocates walkable communities, neighborhood- based housing choices, promotion of healthy and active lifestyles within communities, and a focus on safety and security.
The over-60 population is expected to double in the next 15 years in Atlanta. To address the growing importance of aging issues within the community, Aging Atlanta was created in 2001. The organization consists of 50 non-profit, public and private partners and is aimed at increasing affordable and accessible housing, transportation choices, and access to support services and health care for older adults.
Another program created by ARC to increase livability in Atlanta is Community Choices. This program is aimed at reshaping the built environment along principles of smart growth, with particular focus on increasing accessibility, improving transportation, and ensuring an adequate housing stock.
Together, these programs allow Atlanta to strategically address smart growth and active aging within the community. Further details regarding the programs can be found in the profiles below.
The changing demographics will influence demands on healthcare, transportation, housing, and social service systems in Atlanta. The Aging Atlanta partnership is researching and analyzing these trends and testing new service delivery models to ensure that Atlanta is prepared to meet the needs of older adults, as this population grows.
Aging Atlanta funding originated from a $150,000 grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and was supported with matching funds from partner organizations to establish a $450,000 budget for the initial 18 months of operation. Additional funding from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation was awarded in 2004 with a grant of $750,000, which will comprise nearly a third of the four-year budget for Aging Atlanta.
The goals of the partnership are as follows:
- Develop increase service options through a neighborhood level approach
- Advocate for local policies that foster "age-friendly" communities for older adults
- Prepare future older adults for life after retirement
- Increase public awareness about long-term support services
- Improve communication between service providers
- Increase outreach to underserved older adults
Several initiatives have been prompted by the Aging Atlanta program. An excellent example of how these initiatives can tie into smart growth can be found in pilot program in East Point, a naturally occurring retirement community. The program aims to improve transportation options and service accessibility to older adults within the community through a voucher program, which allows older adults with unmet transportation needs to receive subsidized assistance for public transportation or ridesharing with friends and neighbors. The voucher program is resulting in more efficiency than typical van services.
The Community Choices program is focused on reshaping the built environment through the practice of smart growth. One component of the program, the Community Choices Toolkit, offers an online resource center to provide community leaders and planners with resources to promote smart growth. A total of 23 toolkits provide guidance on the implementation of innovative community planning concepts.
Topics include aging in place, active living, bicycle and pedestrian planning, transit-oriented development, and mixed-use development. Aging in Place is one of the most frequently accessed tools, and offers solutions for communities to prepare for the rapidly growing population of older adults. The tool provides best practice standards and case studies for promoting smart growth and the support of aging populations through planning, zoning, housing, community design and service integration.
Additional support is provided to communities who seek assistance in implementing practices found in the Community Choices Toolkit. The Local Government Assistance Program is offered by ARC staff and is currently used by three counties, three cities and six local governments. The assistance requested most frequently includes housing development for older adults, the development of transportation alternatives for those over 60 who do not drive, and development of walkable mixed-use communities.
Another initiative under the Community Choice program is the Livable Centers Initiative, which provides funding to help communities develop programs that adhere to smart growth principles and increase access to service and amenities through an inclusive process involving a wide range of community stakeholders. The main strategies encouraged though the program include:
- Prioritizing pedestrian traffic
- Enhancing sidewalks and streetscapes
- Connecting retail, businesses and residential areas
- Improving transportation choices and accessibility
- Increasing housing options
After communities create a plan with these areas of emphasis, they can apply for funding from ARC through the Livable Centers Initiative. To date, 58 communities have been awarded a total of nearly $500 million dollars.
For more information on programs in Atlanta, see Atlanta Regional Commission/Aging Resources
City: Dunedin, Florida Communities for a Lifetime Initiative
Dunedin, Florida was one of the first cities to embrace the Communities for a Lifetime (CFL) initiative put forth by the State of Florida Department of Elder Affairs in 2000.
The CFL program provides guidance to communities committed to creating a better environment for older adults through a process of ongoing assessment and action. The program is voluntary and includes the provision of technical assistance, but does not include funding.
Dunedin is located on the west central coast of Florida, near Tampa. Nearly 28 percent of the land in the city is designated for recreational use, conservation, or open space.
The city has a population of 35,700, with 35 percent aged 60 or older. Dunedin had a long demonstrated commitment to its aging population, and the mayor, city manager, and city council welcomed the initiative to further improve the community for its older adult population. The city began with the required CFL objectives:
- Assessment through a community report card of service provision to the older population and the availability of opportunities that encourage independence and a high quality of life
- Creation of a partnership of non-profits, government officials, and businesses to promote development of amenities for older adults
The city appointed the Dunedin Committee on Aging, which existed prior to the CFL effort, as the primary overseer of the initiative. Dunedin set their primary goal as providing an environment for aging in place with security and purpose. The city, under guidance of the CFL program, considers community design aspects such as sidewalk and pedestrian conditions, as well as transportation alternatives and how these affect the daily lives and activity of its older population.
To effectively carry out assessment and program action, Dunedin created the position of CFL coordinator and appointed the city’s recreation program coordinator to this position. The coordinator, along with the Committee on Aging, appointed a planning team with 30 representatives to carry out the community assessment. The assessment process involved resident participation and feedback that included the identification of new opportunities and current challenges to older adult participation in recreation and programs, opportunity to comment on the built environment and how it could be improved for the aging population, and needs for transit and amenity improvement. This process also increased public awareness of the CFL initiative in Dunedin and existing programs for seniors within the city.
Specifically, the assessment addressed smart growth and active aging components such as:
- Land use and zoning
- Pedestrian safety
- Traffic signals
- Air and water quality
- Leisure activities
- Quality of life issues
The assessment process occurred over a seven month process and resulted in the publication of the Community Report Card for Well Elders. Dunedin was the first community in Florida to complete a CFL assessment.
As a result of the community assessment, the city and CFL team identified three primary areas of emphasis to improve the community environment for the older population:
- Improve city’s accessibility, including walkability and transportation options
- Offer new opportunities for inclusion in community activities
- Increase inter-generational activities
The resulting initiatives included a $1.7 million expansion to the senior center, which allowed for increased recreation offerings, and the creation of a Youth Advisory Committee to plan and execute community-wide inter-generational activities. Also, the city emphasized accessibility issues by improving sidewalks through expansion of the system, increased connections and the installation of ramps. Along with this, the city implemented traffic calming measures including the placement of pedestrian medians in crosswalks and the addition of audible crossing signals.
The city also conducted a comprehensive evaluation of the city’s transportation systems, evaluated shelters and bus stops to ensure adequate protection from the elements, produced a brochure outlining transportation options for those who do not drive, and increased street sign text height from six to nine inches to improve readability for older drivers. The local transit authority will also produce a new master plan addressing needs identified in the CFL assessment.
For more information on the CFL program, see Communities for a Lifetime
Rural: Portage County, Wisconsin Rural Planning Vision
Portage County is a rural area located in the heart of Wisconsin with nearly 11 percent of population aged at 65 and older. In the spring of 2002, the county began a visioning process to ensure smart growth and planning in the region reflected community needs. The process was led by the Portage County Comprehensive Planning Joint Steering Committee, which represented each of the county's 27 local units of the government. The vision process resulted in the identification of nine priority issues within the rural community:
- Economic Development
- Intergovernmental Cooperation
- Land Use
- Natural Resources
- Public Facilities
- Quality of Life
Workshops involving a broad range of stakeholders were then held, to establish a vision for how Portage County should develop in relation to the nine areas of concern. The resulting plan documents the vision for the rural area of Portage County in the year 2020 through addressing issues such as population growth, aging populations, demands on natural resources, and the changing nature of an agriculture economy.
The county’s vision for combining smart growth and active living and aging principles can be seen in the plan’s "Ideas for Transportation:"
- Public transportation is available in some form countywide, and its use is encouraged as a way to reduce auto trips. Senior citizens and the transportation disadvantaged are a special emphasis for this service.
- Bicycle transportation planning has achieved a greater level of emphasis within the County, facilitating bicycle commuting as well as access to schools, parks and businesses.
- Sidewalks and pedestrian paths/trails are found across the County where access to commercial, residential, and recreational areas is needed.
- Our road network is well maintained. Emphasis is placed on use or expansion of existing road facilities before considering construction of new roads. The public is highly involved in the decision making process for locating new roads. Commercial development along new highways in rural areas is planned where appropriate.
- Abandoned railroad right-of-way is maintained for transportation services, either as bike or hike trails or as future rail.
Similarly, active living is promoted in the community, with consideration of a countywide network of parks and trails for hiking, biking, and recreation as an important factor impacting quality of life. Provisions are established within the vision to ensure adequate affordable housing for seniors throughout the county.
An emphasis on community through design, housing, and active living is evident within the counties’ visions. As the plan states:
"In 2020, Portage County residents feel connected to their community through their homes and neighborhoods. An adequate supply of affordable housing countywide provides opportunities for all residents, across income levels and age groups, to put down roots and build a life here. Friendly, active neighborhoods add to a local sense of belonging, and provide opportunities for neighbors to have more contact with each other and their community."
The provision of services and facilities for seniors and other members of the community is also recognized as an important part of the rural community’s vision for active living and smart growth. Portage County characterizes this vision:
"In 2020, Portage County residents enjoy a network of high quality, efficient public facilities. Through cooperation and collaboration, local units of government can work together to provide services across municipal boundaries. Sewer and water services are provided within established and planned growth areas that effectively reduce the impacts of sprawl development into the rural portions of the county. An exceptional educational system provides opportunities for lifelong learning. Portage County residents value their youth, families, seniors, and disadvantaged, and promote facilities and activities aimed at improving community vitality."
These vision statements where then vetted through an inclusive planning process to determine the means by which Portage County could best achieve its vision. A number of growth scenarios and alternatives were examined during this comprehensive approach to smart growth rural planning. More information on Portage County’s planning process can be found at Portage County Comprehensive Planning Program.
Additional Internet Resources on Smart Growth/Active Aging Model Programs
A Report to the Nation on Livable Communities: Creating Environments for Successful Aging (112 pp, 2.69MB, About PDF)
City of Reedley
Creating Plans that Encourage Walking and Bicycling
Additional Internet Resources on Smart Growth/Active Aging Programs for Rural Communities
North Carolina Smart Growth Alliance
Healthy Rural Communities: A Resource and Action Guide for North Carolina