AARP announced last week that Bangor is the 100th community in the country and the 17th in Maine to achieve the organization’s “age-friendly community” status. Leaders in these communities have committed to developing strategies to improve quality of life for older residents, according to Lori Parham, director of AARP Maine.
Bangor’s recent designation as “age-friendly” by the senior advocacy organization AARP is just one indicator of the city’s commitment to becoming a safe, creative, entrepreneurial home for residents of all ages, officials say.
City Council Chairman Sean Faircloth said Monday that the city is embarked on a comprehensive effort to improve the livability of all the city’s neighborhoods and make Bangor more attractive to people of all ages.
“My goal is for Bangor to raise its status and become one of the best small cities in the country,” he said.
Making the city more liveable for older adults, he said, will also increase its draw for younger individuals and families.
“People want to live and age in the homes and communities they love,” Parham said, and surveys show that most seniors value and benefit from living with a mix of generations.
Issues such as transportation, housing, recreation, social participation, communication and access to support services cut across all ages, she said, so improvements benefit everyone.
For example, when it comes to smooth sidewalks, well lit streets and clear walk signals at intersections, “what’s good for an older person with a walker is also what’s good for a young mother with a stroller,” Parham said.
In Bangor, Faircloth said, the age-friendly designation fits into a larger “innovative neighborhoods” initiative spearheaded by the city to attract and retain residents of all ages. A steering committee was formed with members from a number of area organizations, including the Bangor Daily News, to consider a broad spectrum of community issues and opportunities for improvement. A series of focus groups will help planners identify and prioritize ways to improve the quality of life in the Queen City.
“This is an exciting opportunity for Bangor,” said Patty Hamilton, director of the city’s Health and Community Services department, a member of the steering committee who is organizing the focus groups. “We know that policies that support seniors also support young families, and these initiatives can help prepare Bangor for the future.”
Bangor also is exploring the Village to Village model of supporting residents through organized volunteerism and community service. Village to Village is a national model that promotes the development of networks of older adult volunteers and affordable services to help support seniors in their communities. To date, the only designated “village” in Maine is on the Blue Hill peninsula, where the At Home Downeast program has been supporting local seniors since 2013.
In Bangor, Faircloth said, he expects the model will be modified to include participants of all ages, including volunteers who are students and adults with mild disabilities providing services to needy residents of any age.
“Under this model, it doesn’t matter the age of people being served or the age of the person providing the service,” he said.
The challenge of organizing the network of volunteers and dues-paying members who need services such as transportation, basic home maintenance and other tasks will fall to the Penquis community agency. In the village model, members in need of services pay a sliding scale annual fee based on their income.
“I like to think of it as sort of a Peace Corps for your town,” Faircloth said. “It’s an opportunity to do something for your community.”
Parham said Maine is ahead of most other states in long-term planning for the needs of an aging population. The organization is working with communities across the state, not only the 17 designated age-friendly municipalities but many others that have requested support in organizing and planning for a growing population of older residents.
Still, she said, “many communities aren’t really thinking about the aging of their residents.”
AARP Maine can offer support, she said, including the services of a professional city planner and small grants and other tools for assessing community needs.