Officials and town leaders discuss age-friendly ideas

  • James Fuccione, standing, speaks with a breakout group from the Town of Erving at LifePath and Franklin Regional Council of Governments co-sponsored event, Age-Friendly Community Planning: A Tool for Building Stronger Communities. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 12/14/2019 6:52:05 AM
Modified: 12/14/2019 6:52:02 AM

GREENFIELD – As the region’s population ages, town leaders, elected officials, planners and more are thinking of ways to make it easy on residents so they stay.

About 70 people gathered this week to discuss everything from walkability through towns to transportation, infrastructure and safety, health and education and volunteerism, to name a few, and how towns can entice people to age in place or at least within the towns they’ve been living in.

What it takes to become an age-friendly community and how towns can start working toward that goal, either individually or regionally, is what attendees of the LifePath and Franklin Regional Council of Governments co-sponsored event, Age-Friendly Community Planning: A Tool for Building Stronger Communities, discussed. LifePath is a nonprofit that serves all of Franklin County and Athol, Petersham, Royalston and Phillipston.

“Becoming an age-friendly community is an international movement at this point,” Massachusetts Healthy Aging Collaborative Executive Director James Fuccione told the crowd. “We need to talk about what a community like that looks like. Becoming an age-friendly community is not just a sign at the edge of town. Each community needs to talk about what it means for them.”

AARP now has an Age-Friendly Communities program that towns can join, but they need a vote of the selectboard or mayor and need to apply for that status, which can lead to resources and funding to make it happen.

Fuccione said the collaborate he leads includes Tufts Insurance,which also provides resources and information. He said it encourages collaboration between and among communities, health organizations, wellness organizations, local government and businesses, educational institutions and philanthropists.

He said the idea is to consider all residents, because everyone will age, and make communities inclusive and barrier-free, so that municipal buildings, parks, all public spaces are accessible to everyone.

Fuccione said communities can combat ageism by focusing on everyone, but realizing that older residents may need specific amenities.

“Aging should not be considered a natural disaster or a silver tsunami, it should be looked at as an opportunity,” he said.

He said what towns need to look at is improving services, outdoor spaces and buildings, communications, like internet, transportation, housing, social opportunities, civic participation, employment and public safety when thinking about their older residents.

“It all starts with talking to each other,” Fuccione said. “Transportation, especially in rural areas is typically at the top of the list.”

He said some communities decide to become age-friendly on their own, while others band together and regionalize efforts.

He said it makes sense for towns and cities to become designated age-friendly communities, because they end up with resources, an action plan, and in many cases, funding. He said besides residents, police and fire services, councils on aging, planning departments, museums, elder services, health care providers, chambers of commerce, schools and arts councils should all be involved in the conversation.

“They all care about this issue in different ways,” he said.

Fuccione said, for instance, municipal departments should think about aging in all areas, including libraries, public works, economic development, parks and recreation, taxes and more.

A member of the audience said climate change should also be considered when discussing aging residents and the communities they live in.

“All communities decide what to focus on,” Fuccione said. “So that would be an option.”

Organizers said that it is imperative that towns and cities start the discussions, no matter what they include in those discussions, because according to state statistics, the 65 and older population is growing and will continue to over the next several years.

There is no cost to apply for an Age-Friendly Communities designation, and everyone at the event agreed that communities need to think about the future.

As the four-hour event went on, attendees broke into groups to talk about where they want to see their towns in 10 to 15 years in terms of what they offer their aging and aged residents, as well as everyone else.

One person spoke about how the Golden Girls had the right idea – because there’s a shortage of housing, people should consider living together and sharing expenses.

For more information, visit: www.mahealthyagingcollaborative.org. Also visit or contact the FRCOG at 413-774-3167 or www.frcog.org and LifePath at 413-773-5555 or www.lifepathma.org.

To learn more about how to become an Age-Friendly Communities, visit: www.aarp.org.


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