Those of you of a certain age might recall this blog title as the title of a book in the early 1970s by John W. Gardner. For those unfamiliar with this, I think it’s worth the internet search to check out some of Mr. Gardner’s civic achievements and the Common Cause movement he founded. I see many of the same aspirations and calls for citizen action in the current Livable Communities / Age-Friendly movement currently being lead nationally by AARP. More locally, this is being led by Sarasota County Government with the support of The Patterson Foundation.
The AARP Livable Communities National Conference is offered as an annual gathering for anyone who's committed to making their state, county, city, town or neighborhood a great place to live for people of all ages. I had the good fortune of representing Age-Friendly Sarasota at the 2018 Conference held in Charlotte, North Carolina. More than 650 elected officials, planning professionals, local leaders, and community advocates met to connect with peers who are helping to drive community change, learn from livability experts, and share local achievements. It was so good to see the formal presence of the American Planning Association (APA) and their growing relationship with Livable Communities.
The Conference theme was “Sustaining the Momentum: Engaging People, Partners, and Policy Makers.” Plenary sessions focused on topics such as Transportation and Mobility, Building Livable Communities through Citizen Engagement, Engaging Partners, Issues That Matter to Cities, Place-making and Public Spaces, and the Emergence of Age-Friendly States. This 6th annual conference was the largest yet, with over 70% more in attendance than last year. While the critical importance of engagement was a common theme throughout the conference, many sub-themes and takeaways emerged:
- Age-friendly is helping communities be more resilient. It needs to be politically neutral. It’s about the collective impact that benefits communities for years to come.
- The importance of public outreach and education: listening to your community, engaging and raising awareness.
- We must bridge institutional silos and seek out opportunities to partner, collaborate and co-empower.
- The time has come to connect health systems and public health to the livable communities /age-friendly movement.
- It is important that communities ask the right questions such as: What outcomes are we looking for? Who do we need on board to achieve our goals? Communities grow in the direction of questions asked.
- Advocate for policies that have an “all ages” perspective, creating and assuring equity in both opportunity and access that include social, economic, and technological areas.
- Community leaders’ goals should be the same as Livable Communities goals, which is to improve the lives of citizens within their community.
- Even with budget constraints, communities can be creative and forward thinking with a focus on infrastructure and innovation.
Sharing her perspective, Nancy LeaMond, AARP’s EVP and Chief Advocacy & Engagement Officer, discussed working outside the “aging bubble” and working on areas with great intergenerational appeal. She heralded the power of citizen engagement, with the need to keep gathering fresh insights, while continually asking “who else should be at the table?” Her words brought me back to John Gardner’s book, In Common Cause, and the evolution (in my eyes) of the Livable Communities / age-friendly movement now before us. It’s all good. A RISING TIDE LIFTS ALL BOATS. Thanks to AARP for convening such an opportunity for us to connect, learn, and share, while helping our communities to evolve and become stronger.