Innovations in Aging: Building an Age-Friendly City

By Becky Hurley

Imagine a place where a retiree can enjoy safe parks and open spaces, find a part-time job to augment Social Security and access the best health care.

In this world, you’ll find plenty of affordable living, personal assistance, meals options – and a transportation system to make it easy to get to the grocery store, social activities or the doctor.

Is this Shangri-La – or could it be Colorado Springs?

After all, we’re a great place to live. U.S. News & World Report and Kiplinger’s have named us one of the nation’s best retirement destinations.  In fact Colorado’s senior population is forecast to increase by 150 percent by 2030. But where do we start?

The good news: the Pikes Peak region is home to a number of dynamic senior community public and private sector resources. The city is also home to the Innovations in Aging Collaborative (IIAC): a forward-thinking, roll-up-your-sleeves organization, founded in 2009 by B.J. Scott and Barbara Yalich.

“Since aging begins the day we are born, our goal is to make the city an exceptional place in which to age for all generations,” Scott says.

Executive Director Claire Anderson, Community Outreach Coordinator Natasha Riveron and an engaged community board are already making impressive strides.

The program got a boost in 2016 when the city was officially designated as a member of the AARP’s Network of Age Friendly Cities. With support from Innovations, senior services providers like Silver Key, the Senior Resource Council and the Area Agency on Aging are helping to build an inclusive, accessible community – one that supports a healthy, active and engaged lifestyle. Specific areas of focus include: outdoor spaces and buildings; transportation; housing; social participation; respect and social inclusion; civic participation and employment; communication and information as well as community support and health services.

“We have a long way to go,” Anderson says, “but it’s exciting to see how everyone’s hard work is paying off. She credits IIAC’s community outreach for bringing together nonprofits, government and private sector partners like ENT and AARP.

Those efforts extend to the state and regional decision makers, grantors, volunteers and stakeholders, says past Board Chair David Lord. The NextFifty Initiative, for example, with Governor Hickenlooper’s endorsement, led to creation of a new independent Colorado grant-making foundation and cabinet position dedicated to a vulnerable and under-served aging population. Locally, IIAC works on wide-ranging projects, including: safer, accessible parks and public spaces; helping seniors connect with transportation services that foster independence; and, increasing opportunities for intergenerational village living in the Old North End. It also hopes to develop a senior-friendly database and Web portal for online searchers.

One of the most immediate needs: finding and creating more accessible, affordable senior housing, Lord explains.

“Silver Key CEO/President Pat Ellis estimates we currently have 15,000 seniors looking for affordable homes in El Paso County,” he adds, pointing to last fall’s headlines when longtime senior residents of Emerald Towers were notified they had 60 – later 90 days – to find a new place to live.

Many found high rents and low supply. One option is to build more single-story homes where people can age in place. Innovations’ Housing and Outdoor Spaces committee is working with the local HBA on an accessibility checklist and certification process, Lord explains.

“It includes features like bars in bathrooms, arthritis-friendly doorknobs and step-free entries,” he says.

Innovative options like tiny or “accessory homes” are also under discussion. Until now, local building codes have not allowed construction of tiny homes in the city; they’ve also prohibited separate casita-type residences on the same lot as a larger home.

“There’s an intergenerational opportunity here,” Lord says. “We believe that, if allowed, these buildings might start out as an affordable place for young people to live – maybe next to their parents’ home. Later on, the same unit could be used by aging family members.”

Intergenerational living is frequently promoted by Age Friendly advocates – and for good reason. IIAC Community Outreach Coordinator, 22-year old Natasha Riveron sees her work w IIAC as positive for the entire city.

“Safe parks and open spaces or access to affordable living – that’s something we all want, whether you’re a Millennial mom with a stroller or a senior with a walker,” she says.

Bottom line, it’s an exciting time for us all.

For more information, visit www.innovationsinaging.org, or call 719-602-3815.

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