Tuesday, December 2, 2014

The New Age Friendly Maine

The New Age Friendly Maine

One of my friends who is a new mother was commenting on the difficulty of carrying all the equipment around with her, particularly that ubiquitous hard baby bucket.  She wished that there were hooks on the wall so that she didn’t have to put the bucket on the floor, just as there are railings along some walls for those who are unsteady on their feet. 

As many bemoan the aging of the population in Maine and cry for economic development to keep or bring young people to the state, some communities are embracing the reality to create a better place to live for all of us, whether old or young.  That’s the case with Bowdoinham where I talked with town manager William Post and the new coordinator for Older Adult Services, Patricia Oh, about creating an age friendly community.  As Bowdoinham created its most recent comprehensive plan, it learned what other communities have learned that the community was aging.  Rather than looking at the negative, with the help of a needs’ assessment carried out by Patricia Oh, Bowdoinham created a dynamic advisory committee, all 60 and over, to develop activities for seniors but also to create more inclusive community events that incorporated activities for seniors.  This year’s Celebrate Bowdoinham included events for the whole family, but following the recommendations of the Advisory Committee increased the number of handicapped parking areas, added a drop off area closer to events, added seating areas, and expanded activities specifically for older residents, including bingo, a shared memory board, a gaming table (cribbage and QWIRKL), a trivia contest, and extra space for socialization under a tent.

Towns with a recreation center, a Y, or a town rec program can do the same. That is the social aspect. 

Bowdoinham wants to be more than a place where social activities are present for older adults. It wants to make the community to be a place for all people, not only in terms of the social environment but also the physical environment.  Anyone who has watched a toddler or older person, a woman in heels, or a person navigating a wheel chair knows the perils of uneven pavement.  That’s part of making the physical environment age friendly. 

Bowdoinham has become the first designated community in Maine to be included in the WHO Global Network of Age-friendly Cities and Communities.  To have this designation, Bowdoinham is constantly examining common sense needs from pedestrian friendly intersections and other transportation needs, to civic participation and inclusion, to ways to communicate with all population groups. What Bowdoinham has found is a wealth of untapped institutional memory to help the community grow.

Though certainly we need to have new jobs, improving the quality of life, whether for our young people, older people, or those somewhere in the middle, will do a lot to keep people in Maine and attract others.

If you want to learn more, you can go to Bowdoinham’s website, Advisory Committee on Aging  and to the World HealthOrganization Age Friendly checklist   Other communities are actively pursuing a senior friendly environment such as Ellsworth and Bar Harbor. As Michelle Beal, City Manager of Ellsworth said in a recent Ellsworth American story, helping seniors makes sense. They don't cost a lot for the city and meeting their needs is an economic development opportunity.