In July 2016, the City of Seattle furthered their commitment to being a city for all ages by joining the AARP Network of Age-Friendly Communities. A brainchild of the World Health Organization, the AARP initiative currently has a membership of 189 communities throughout the country and represents 66.5 million people nationwide. This unique program provides a framework for jurisdictions to assess the current age-friendliness of a community through direct feedback from older residents and a thorough internal review of city plans and policies that impact older adults.
Led by a community-based Age Friendly Task Force and with strong support from the Mayor and City Council, Seattle has made significant progress towards developing a three-year action plan, which includes short- and long-term solutions to make Seattle a more livable community.
An AARP-fielded livability survey of more than 500 Seattle residents over age 45 provides valuable insight as the task force develops their action plan. Not surprisingly, housing and cost of living are top concerns, among others.
- More than half (63 percent) of residents say remaining in their current home for as long as possible is extremely or very important. We know housing is a central component of livability. Long-time residents want to stay in their community, where they know the barista at the coffee place down the street, the mail carrier, and have a network of support that enhances their quality of life.
- Respondents cited three top reasons why they may need to move from their current residence. These include the cost of maintaining their current home (38 percent), needing to live somewhere with a lower cost of living (45 percent), and wanting a home that will help them live independently as they age (46 percent) like a step-free entry or widened doorways.
- Beyond moving to a new residence, some respondents say they may need or want to move out of their current community, citing personal safety or security (46 percent) as a top factor.
- Seattle’s 45+ residents are also concerned about adequate affordable housing in the city. About half (51 percent) rank the city as fair or poor when it comes to having housing options for adults of varying income levels, while 44 percent give the same fair/poor ranking for well-maintained, safe, low-income housing.
- On a positive note, 76 percent say they walk or bike within their community, which leads to a healthier lifestyle and better air quality.
- More than half (52 percent) of respondents also give a nod to the city’s well-maintained parks and outdoor spaces.
- Finally, 83 percent still rate Seattle as excellent, very good, or good for people to live as they age.
While there are always opportunities and challenges when it comes to aging, Seattle is ahead of the game. In the short term, the city has already taken action to make the community more age-friendly by assessing 2,300 miles of sidewalk connectivity, safety, and mobility. They have also tapped into tech talent by hosting the A City for All civic technology hackathon.
“The City of Seattle asked local techies, urban designers and planners to come together to think about how we can make our community more age-friendly through the use of data,” said AARP Washington community outreach director Amanda Frame. “We are incredibly impressed with the creative talent and outcomes from the hackathon teams.”
In 2012, AARP and GOVERNING Magazine conducted a survey of state and local leaders to learn how many communities were planning their livability for an aging population. Only 16 percent of leaders surveyed said their communities were prepared for the next 25 years of change as the age wave of older adults begin to hit our shores. Yet, in the same survey, leaders indicated they care about creating livable communities—56 percent indicated that it was very or extremely important.
With the leadership and commitment from the Mayor’s office and the Age Friendly Task Force, city leaders have taken action to create a livable community to match a person’s needs—at each stage in their life.
AARP’s founder, Dr. Ethel Percy Andrus, once said of the United States, “This is a country where it is wonderful to be young. It must also become a country where it is wonderful to be old.” Kudos to the City of Seattle for recognizing that we all benefit when the places we live are designed for the rest of our lives—where we can grow up and grow old successfully.