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Among other cities' work:
--The Atlanta Regional Commission's Lifelong Communities Initiative is pushing communities that help people age in place. Efforts are under way in six metro areas, including work to adapt zoning codes to allow more of a walkable mix of housing and retail. The Mableton community of suburban Cobb County is planning that kind of a town square, and has opened a farmers market -- on a weekday morning when seniors preferred to shop -- and intergenerational community garden. To the east, DeKalb County is building a library near a senior center, planned senior housing and a bus stop. One town pilot-tested a shuttle for seniors to supplement bare-bones public transit.
The Atlanta Housing Authority is working with the commission to retrofit high-rise apartments that house a lot of older residents, with the goal to improve access to the surrounding community. At one site under construction, changes include a ramp entrance, safer sidewalk to the bus stop and more time for pedestrians to cross the street.
The overall move isn't without controversy.
Sometimes younger residents misunderstand and say they don't want to live in a retirement community, said commission urban planner Laura Keyes.
She said boomers, who are classified as being born from 1946 to 1964, and millenials, the children of baby boomers who came of age in the new millennium, ultimately want the same things: access to shopping, green space, more freedom from the car. The idea is a mix of ages but where older residents don't need to move if their health fails.
Keyes became interested in age-friendly communities when visiting friends in nursing homes built in commercial districts -- and saw that they had nowhere to take a walk.
--Philadelphia is the oldest of the nation's 10 largest cities, with 19 percent of its residents over age 60 -- and lots of multi-story rowhouses where seniors are stuck on one floor. "They become prisoners in their homes," said Kate Clark of the nonprofit Philadelphia Corporation for Aging.
In redesigning the city's zoning code, proposals are being debated that would allow seniors to rent out their upper floors, and to require that a certain amount of new housing be what's called "visitable" -- with such things as ramp entrances, wide hallways and at least a half-bathroom on the main floor, she said.
With funding from the National Institutes of Health, the aging group's Allen Glicksman is studying if seniors who live in a walkable neighborhood really are healthier as a result. He has found that social capital -- think friendly neighbors, low crime and good sidewalks that encourage getting out -- is as important to older residents as access to supermarkets, public transportation and good housing.
Also, there are calls for age-friendlier parks, with safer steps and places to walk apart from bikers.
To sustain momentum, Clark created GenPhilly, a network of 20- and 30-somethings interested in shaping the city they'll age in by raising senior issues in varying professions.
--Portland was part of WHO's initial study of what makes a city age-friendly, an initiative that helped bring about more handicapped-accessible cars for the city's light-rail system, Neal said.
Now, aging experts are among the advisers as the city develops a master plan for the next 25 years. One issue, Neal said, is how to develop more accessible housing when the city's anti-sprawl policy means a lot of narrow, multistory houses are being squeezed into empty city lots -- near transportation but still not age-friendly with all the stairs.
Integrating senior-friendly changes into everyday city policies is less visible than, say, a new retirement home but it's ultimately the goal, says Scharlach, the aging expert.
--New York also hopes for some economic return.
Consider La Marqueta in East Harlem. Fifty years ago, it was a bustling, five-block market, a weekly gathering spot for families. But economic downturn left the city-owned building mostly empty for years. Now, as part of a $1.5 million economic revitalization project, an industrial kitchen in the building will train low-income women to start their own food businesses. It joins the fish and butcher shop, a farmers market, and a high-end food importer -- and busing in the seniors once a month boosts the still thin customer traffic.
But it's more than a shopping day. A quick check from a health department nurse reassured 73-year-old Maria Ilarraza that her blood pressure was OK, and she sat to catch up with friends over coffee. In another corner, a crowd listened as a university nutritionist explained how to safely freeze and thaw meat.
Art teacher Piedad Gerena showed off some of the bold landscapes and modern images her students at a nearby senior center learned to paint, and, to her delight, sometimes sell for up to $200 apiece. "Many of these people have no families," Gerena said. "The art makes them feel happy."
World Health Organization's Global Network of Age-Friendly Cities: http://tinyurl.com/3kdkp6q
Portland State University's Institute on Aging:
New York City's Aging Improvement Districts: http://tinyurl.com/3h5fo7a
New York Academy of Medicine:
Atlanta Regional Commission's Lifelong Communities Initiative: http://tinyurl.com/3gz9lfv
Philadelphia Corporation for Aging:
Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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