Panel to explore creating a more age-friendly community

Becoming a More Age-Friendly Community

Iowa City Senior Center — Thursday, March 9 at 6 p.m.

Residents are exploring ways in which Iowa City can become a more intergenerational city. — archive photo

A lecture and panel event on Thursday will examine how Iowa City and other communities can become more age-friendly, supporting community members who wish to age in place and and welcoming those — both young and old — who are interested in walkable, intergenerational neighborhoods.

The event begins at 6 p.m. with a lecture by Zachary Benedict, an Indiana-based architect with MKM architecture + design and a leading figure in the “Lifetime Community” movement. Benedict said he hopes to talk not only about how to make communities more welcoming to older residents, but also how those same efforts can benefit younger populations by making towns more walkable and boosting local economies.

“At the end of the day it can’t just be about aging and older adults or no one will show up,” he said. “No one wants to turn your downtown to a retirement community; you have to make sure you are engaging people of all ages and abilities.”

He cited the example of a common kitchen utensil: the OXO brand potato peeler. The design of the peeler was initially inspired by a desire to be kinder to arthritic hands than the traditional, metal-handled peelers. But Benedict said the genius of the company was to market the peeler as a utensil for everyone, not just those with arthritis.

“It’s still something you have to have as a young newlywed on your wedding registry,” he said.

He said communities can start working towards becoming more age-friendly by focusing on things like improving accessible housing stock, offering volunteer opportunities that take advantage of retirees’ skills and training businesses to provide opportunities for older individuals who, rather than transitioning immediately from working full-time to retirement, are interested in working part-time or in different capacities.

“Designing neighborhoods for aging in place is not just for older people — it’s a good neighborhood for people of all ages,” Iowa City Senior Center coordinator Linda Kopping said. “It promotes things like walkability and bikeability and green space and healthy living. These are the kinds of neighborhoods we all want.”

Kopping said she would like to see greater awareness in the community, especially among those involved in city planning, about the possibility of developing neighborhoods where people can age in place.

Following a brief break for refreshments, Benedict will moderate a panel of individuals involved in local age-friendly initiatives. This includes David Rust, who is the chair of the board of directors for the newly forming nonprofit TRAIL of Johnson County.

TRAIL (which stands for Tools and Resources for Active and Independent Living) hopes to be underway in April, and would provide a number of services to help those who wish to age in place. Members will be able to reach out to volunteers who can perform tasks such as lawn care, driving to grocery stores or medical appointments and simple chores like climbing a ladder to replace a lightbulb, which can become more difficult, or even dangerous, with age.

TRAIL will also provide a list of pre-screened service providers and opportunities to participate in social events like book clubs or group outings, Rust said. The group is based on the nationwide Village to Village Network that already supports 200 similar villages across the country.

Rust said he hopes people come away from Thursday’s event with an idea of what an age-friendly community might look like. He said aging in place is a healthier alternative for those who are able to safely remain at home rather than heading to a retirement community or nursing home.

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“To be in familiar surroundings, in the home you’ve lived in, in the neighborhood you’ve lived in for as long as it is safe, is a much less isolating way to age than having to leave your home before you are ready to leave it,” he said. “If there are services that can support that person, then that’s worth a lot in terms of their mental health and the involvement they can continue to have in the community.”

The lecture and panel event is part of the Iowa City/Johnson County Senior Center’s “Age More” theme for 2017, which examines issues of ageism and explores the idea of aging in place. The event is free and open to the public.

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