Transportation Is One Key to Livable Communities for All Ages

Our rapidly aging population demands a fundamental shift in planning to minimize the economic, social, and health challenges that will otherwise overwhelm communities. Many communities, however, have had difficulty bringing planners and aging professionals together to plan livable communities for all ages.

At the America Society on Aging's 2017 Aging in America conference, over 250 planners and aging professionals did just that — and started a conversation that has continued in many communities and at the national level — including the APA webinar Planning Livable Communities for All Ages.

Professionals within the aging network often define "aging-in-community" as an integrated system of community amenities and supports that allow older adults to remain in their chosen communities. Aging in community is as somewhat broader than "aging-in-place," which typically refers to a more limited system of supports that allow older adults to remain in their current homes.

The aging network generally agrees that key aging-in-community foci include (in no particular order):

  • affordable and appropriate community housing options
  • accessibility and transportation options
  • social engagement
  • amenities for health services
  • acccess to healthy food

This post focuses on the role that transportation can play in the planning and operation of communities that work for people throughout their lifespans. It should be noted that this aging-in-community focus is consistent with the development of livable communities in general, as the goals, strategies and tactics for promoting aging-in-community benefit all people throughout their lifespans, even if they keep a specific eye on supporting older adults.

Communities and regions throughout the country are working creatively to leverage existing public and private transportation resources, and in doing so, better integrate their transportation, mobility, and goals with broader community health, engagement, and equity agendas.

Let's briefly look at three outstanding examples from the metropolitan Chicago region. These examples are drawn from disparate communities that convey a range of scales, densities, and amenity bases — and take differing approaches — but each addresses the overlapping transportation / public health / aging-in-community agendas.

Kane County, Illinois

Kane County sits at the edge of the metropolitan Chicago region. The Kane County Planning Cooperative is a first-cohort member of APA's Plan4Health and is an integrated effort between its health, transportation, and development planning staff to implement the county's array of plans. These include the 2012–2016 Community Health Improvement Plan, the 2040 Long Range Transportation Plan, and the 2040 Plan.

The Planning Cooperative was created as the central core of the 2040 Plan's implementation strategies and focuses its planning on the 2040 Plan's overarching theme of Healthy People, Healthy Living and Healthy Communities. Even without specifically identifying the creation of livable communities for all ages as a goal, it is clear Kane County has long been doing exactly that, through mindful, integrated planning.

Kane County, Illinois, Farmers' Market. Photo courtesy Kane County Planning Cooperative.

Evanston, Illinois

The City of Evanston, an inner-ring suburb bordering the City of Chicago, has adopted both Age-Friendly Evanston — a strategy within which individual plans integrate with its broad livable communities for all ages framework — and specific programmatic goals.

Goals developed around transportation and mobility specifically include "improving healthy-active transportation connections, transit services and on-demand transportation access" and "promoting inclusionary planning through the Transit Planning 4 All program."

As a recent program that advances these goals, Evanston has launched TransAssist 4 Evanston, a pilot program that provides door-to-door services on both a direct trip basis and on a shuttle basis using wheelchair-accessible vans and buses with trained drivers. Integrating its transportation and mobility goals with its broader livable community agenda is serving Evanston and its residents well.

Chinatown in Chicago

Within the City of Chicago's longstanding Chinatown community, the 2015 Chinatown Vision Plan, developed by the Coalition for a Better Chinese American Community (CBCAC) — with assistance by the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning and local elected officials, businesses and residents — highlighted Chinatown's desire to become Chicago's first true "age-friendly" neighborhood.

CBCAC recently secured a Healthy Chicago 2.0 Seed Grant from the Public Health Institute of Metropolitan Chicago and the Chicago Department of Public Health. This will help promote physical activity among residents by finalizing plans for walking and bike paths and other supportive infrastructure, which will advance its "age-friendly" neighborhood goal.

As a result of savvy, integrated planning, Chinatown is setting an example for place-based, sustainable planning of a livable community that meets the needs of its residents throughout their lifespans.

Future Posts

In conclusion, and as a framework that can apply to the subsequent blog posts in this series, the aging network often refers to the "No Wrong Door" concept, by which it means that regardless of the initial entry point an individual uses to access needed services, s/he can be connected to adequate and appropriate support to address their various needs.

I propose that at the community and regional scale, community planners, public health practitioners, and other supporters of the Plan4Health collaboration take a similar approach, and champion approaches whereby many different doors, and planning strategies and collaborations, can and do lead to the development and sustenance of livable communities for all ages.

Livable Communities for All Ages webinar

Top image: Older adults engaged in the planning process. Photo courtesy AARP.

About the Author

Brad Winick, AICP, LEED AP

Brad Winick is an urban planner and architect who holds master's degrees in urban planning and policy and in architecture from the University of Illinois at Chicago, where he is an adjunct professor in the College of Urban Planning and Public Affairs. As a planning consultant, he has managed planning projects for public and private sector clients. Winick is the founder of Planning/Aging, a consultancy dedicated to helping communities plan for their aging populations, and a founder of the Lifetime Communities Collaborative, which takes a regional perspective and a multi-sectoral approach towards developing communities that meet the evolving needs of their residents regardless of their age or ability.

November 10, 2017

By Bradley Winick