Building healthier communities – for a lifetime

Print Friendly and PDF By: Andy Miller Published: Oct 4, 2012

By 2030, one of every five people in metro Atlanta will be 60 or older.

It’s a statistic that has helped spark an initiative by the Atlanta Regional Commission (ARC) to bring more housing and transportation options – and healthy lifestyle features – to area communities.

The goal is to make it possible for individuals to “age in place’’ – to stay in their communities throughout their lifetimes if they so desire.

Currently, many communities are not geared for an aging population. There are few sidewalks, for example, and services are built around the use of an automobile.

“Lifelong Communities,’’ a 3-year-old effort by the ARC, brings together government officials, business leaders and local groups to help make an area fit the needs of seniors and others.

The ARC, the regional planning and intergovernmental coordination agency for the 10-county area, sponsored a summit on the topic Thursday in Atlanta.

“Lifelong” in some ways is a reworking of a traditional concept. It was once common for people to live their whole lives in close-knit communities or neighborhoods, with large extended families and circles of old friends to help them in their later years. Society has changed since then, but the conditions that once made communities so livable can be re-created through planning.

Nine communities in metro Atlanta are pursuing the Lifelong Communities concept, said Laura Keyes of the Aging Services Division of ARC.

Keyes said these communities, ranging from Clayton County to Peachtree Hills in Buckhead, are not just for older adults, but fit every age.

The health aspects can include a network of sidewalks and walking paths; access to preventive health care; and community gardens and farmer’s markets.

Retail and medical offices are within walking distance, and transportation options are available for those who can no longer drive.

Mableton, in Cobb County, is furthest along in implementing the Lifelong Communities concept, Keyes said.

A farmer’s market there is thriving, and a community garden produced 1,300 pounds of produce this year for a food bank.

“We’re creating a sense of place where there hasn’t been any,’’ said Cheryl Mayerik, who’s Lifelong Mableton’s coordinator for the ARC.

It’s not a finished product. An extensive walking trail, for example, won’t be completed for more than a year.

Still, Mayerik points to an upcoming health screening event at an emergency food and clothing shelter, with various medical organizations helping out.

ARC’s Keyes said the Savannah area is pursuing a concept similar to Lifelong Communities.

Dr. Nicole Flowers, of the CDC’s Division of Community Health, said at the summit that beneficial strategies include serving more nutritious food in schools, holding classes on healthy cooking, and keeping school recreation facilities open after hours.

“The greatest chance to improve health is in the community, not in the doctor’s office,” Flowers said.

 

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