With their regular attendees gathered, the jazz band acted as pied pipers- leading the audience across the street while playing some jazz tunes, and then assembled on the steps of the courthouse to play a mini-concert before the attendees dispersed to start visiting the Embracing Aging vendors and mingling with their neighbors.
The event included about 20 vendors, older adults on electric bikes and recumbents, a photo booth, a booth with a community survey, the county owned popcorn stand run by homeschooled children, free fresh vegetables from a meal program, and a Latinx group serving samples of foods native to its culture. This time, nearly 100 people attended the event.
By sticking with their vision, the organizers were able to more than triple their attendees and quadruple the vendors interested in participating. Choosing a centrally located area where neighbors had already been gathering for another age-friendly gathering were key components of success for an age-friendly event.
Building Physical Spaces that Encourage Organic Connection in Summit County, CO
In the previous examples, meaningful intergenerational connections are supported through structured programming and events. Communities can also build spaces where intergenerational interaction can arise organically through the very design of the physical spaces where community members gather. To be designated as “age-friendly,” communities need to provide public areas that are accessible to all ages– both indoors and outside, according to the AARP’s Eight Domains of Livability.
Summit County, CO’s community center is already a public gathering space that welcomes all ages. As the county plans to expand the building, there is conversation about moving the teen center from its existing location to the building.
When designing age-friendly indoor spaces, city planners and designers need to consider and blend a number of elements. This includes how to make the physical location accessible and welcoming as well as how to integrate design features in a way that encourages intergenerational interaction and meaningful connections. In Summit County, additional concerns have arisen when community members have discussed merging the teen center with the community center. People wonder if kids will be disruptive or unsupervised. The County isn’t dismissing these concerns, and are actually bringing the questions to the Age-Friendly Communities Interactive Discussions hosted by LinkAGES and the Lifelong Colorado Initiative in September and October 2022.
“Part of the reason that age-friendly communities are not widespread is that they require intentionality and patience to assess all aspects of the community through an inclusive lens. They require that everyone gets involved and is willing to collaborate– community members, planners, elected officials, businesses, non profits and funders. That takes time and a mutual understanding of what age-friendly looks like,” Rachel B. Cohen, LinkAGES Director says. “But it’s time for all of us to truly listen to the perspectives of all our community members and learn how to work together to co-create communities that we all want to live in.”
We must recognize how pivotal it is for our communities to feel social connection, to feel like they belong. While it may at times feel daunting, the cost of leaving our community members– especially our youth and older adults– estranged from one another is far too high. Some rural Americans, historically more resilient and creative in order to adapt to their surroundings, are showing the rest of us the way. Intergenerational programs, annual events, and built spaces are just some of the answers of how to create age-friendly communities for all of us.
Do you want to learn how you can help make your community age-friendly> Join LinkAGES and Lifelong Colorado Initiative for an interactive discussion series this September and October! Learn more and register via eventbrite!