A powerful antidote to the seemingly relentless trauma and divisiveness gripping our country is to do something unexpected — start an Age Friendly revolution.
The global Age-Friendly City movement overseen by the World Health Organization and AARP has the potential to counter the increasing viciousness of our political discourse and heal the trauma of recent events by transcending ideology and rallying humanity around the universal experience we all hold in common — aging.
As John F. Kennedy said, “We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children’s future. And we are all mortal.”
Of all the toxic -isms that needlessly divide our communities — racism, sexism, jingoism, ableism — AGEISM stands out because it amplifies all the other -isms and, eventually, every single one of us will feel its sting. But I strongly believe that Disrupting Ageism head on, bringing together people of different ages and knocking down ageist stereotypes, has the power to expose, combat and heal prejudices of all stripes and kinds.
Whatever condition a community currently finds itself in, the AARP Age-Friendly framework provides a roadmap for improving livability that benefits everyone. It challenges cities to address affordable housing, expand low-cost public transportation, and provide opportunities for older adults to be active and engaged in the community, as well as improving healthcare. Communities can move at their own pace while holding elected officials and other leaders accountable for progress, and the -isms could slowly begin to dissipate.
Over the past four years as director of Dr. Bill Thomas’ ChangingAging Tour I’ve had the privilege to visit 120 communities in North America in partnership with AARP’s bold #DisruptAging initiative. At every one of these Tour stops we’ve sat down with community stakeholders to discuss the most pressing concerns and most exciting opportunities to disrupt aging in their communities.
Indeed, ageism is universally the most common topic of discussion in these meetings. The good news is that nearly every one of these communities has made combating ageism through development of age friendly communities a top priority.
Earlier this year we performed to robust Age Friendly communities in the Pacific Northwest and New England. We also celebrated with Santa Clara County in April becoming the nation’s first county to have all of its cities adopt an Age-Friendly status. Nearly 180 towns, cities and counties across the U.S. have joined the AARP Network of Age-Friendly Communities and more sign up every day. Last week on Tour we championed Western New York’s Age Friendly Erie County movement with a show in Amherst. Then we barnstormed Indiana to plant the seeds for Age Friendly communities in Fort Wayne, Indianapolis and Evansville, with support from AARP Indiana.
One of the most exciting days I’ve ever had on tour came in Evansville. We were hosted by the University of Southern Indiana (USI), who convened a group of 60 students, faculty and older adults from the community. We conducted a participatory design exercise called 25/10 Crowd Sourcing to tap the group and generate a series of “Ten Times Bolder” ideas to disrupt aging in their community. We then crowdsourced the ideas and ranked them to identify the top five. Here are the results:
- Make building a multi-generational housing complex part of the University of Southern Indiana’s Master Plan.
- Create 55+ living in proximity to students, open and welcoming to all sexual orientations, cultural backgrounds – with a purpose of helping each other with daily life and future planning.
- Incorporate preschools, colleges, housing and senior homes together. Where the college students have free housing in exchange for volunteer hours.
- What about creating a college-like community for elders to improve social, intellectual and spiritual growth?
- Use the campus day care to team up with adult day care.
It was incredible to see a multigenerational group of 60 people nearly spontaneously reach a consensus on a vision for an age friendly future in their community. It demonstrated the power of bringing people together of different ages to break down barriers and tackle a shared problem. We had so much fun that USI has invited the ChangingAging Tour to perform on campus November 6, 2017 and explore a potential partnership to tackle one of their Ten Times Bolder ideas.
I believe the Age Friendly revolution is already here and it proves that we have more in common than we do dividing us. I hope you’ll join.