A “Livable” Future

What makes a place “livable”?

Here at ITNAmerica we focus on senior mobility because mobility is integral to living a full life. We all need opportunities to walk, exercise, connect with others and engage with the world, but when older Americans lose their ability to drive they often find themselves trapped. Particularly in suburban neighborhoods designed around automobiles rather than people, once you step out from behind the steering wheel you can find yourself isolated.

But isolated is no way to live. We have to find something different, a different approach. And we have. Sustainable communities are a different model. They focus on “livability.”

What is “livability”? It’s a community designed for everyone, from older people to children to parents pushing strollers, people in wheelchairs to pedestrians, drivers and bicyclists. The World Health Organization calls these places “age-friendly cities and communities.” These are places where people of any age can leave their homes and go for a walk, get around without a car and enjoy public places. These are places where residents can work, volunteer, find the services they need, shop, socialize and be entertained. They are safe and comfortable places to live. These are towns, cities and neighborhoods designed as lifelong homes, never leaving residents stranded the way traditional suburban neighborhoods can.

AARP is a leading champion of “livability” here in the United States. Their website includes a section that shows what it takes to be “livable,” highlighting American cities and towns on their way to becoming sustainable. They partner with organizations like the Walkable and Livable Communities Institute to change the footprint of American Cities and towns.

For ITNAmerica this idea of “livability” lands close to home. Our work, our mission, is lifelong mobility for seniors. Sometimes that means we support ITN affiliate communities to offer older people rides in private vehicles. But ITNAmerica is more than that. We also work toward policy that supports sustainable senior mobility, and we encourage communities to think differently about social enterprise and a social framework that supports seniors. The more “livable” our communities become, the better will be the lives of our older people. And since old age is coming to us all, we are working to improve the future of everyone.

So what makes a place “livable”? Research conducted with people aged 50+ from communities around the world came up with eight aspects of community life essential for the health and wellbeing of older residents:

The Eight Domains of Age Friendly Communities from the World Health Organization

  1. Outdoor Spaces and Buildings — Safe and accessible recreational facilities, shopping opportunities, municipal services, community-based organizations and other essential services.
  2. Transportation — Safe and affordable transportation to needed services and desired activities.
  3. Housing — Access to a range of housing options, home-modification programs and affordable home maintenance services.
  4. Social Participation — Opportunities for social and civic engagement with peers and younger people.
  5. Respect and Social Inclusion — An environment that encourages civic involvement by residents of all ages and abilities.
  6. Civic Participation and Employment — Paid work and volunteer opportunities for older people and the chance for residents of all ages to engage in the creation of policies relevant to their lives.
  7. Communication and Information — Information about community activities and needed services.
  8. Community Support and Health Services — Home care services, medical care and programs that promote wellness.

This is “livability.” It’s a different way of thinking about our communities, a break from a past bound by cars driving our design and interaction. “Livable communities” not only enable older people to live rich, full lives, they return the focus of our cities, towns and communities to what it should have been all along: our residents. Communities are made of people — young, old and in between — not cars.