Lloyd: How do we make Chatham County and the greater Savannah area an 'age-friendly' community?

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This is a column by Wanda Lloyd, a retired newspaper editor and author of “COMING FULL CIRCLE: From Jim Crow to Journalism.”

How age-friendly is our community?

That’s a question we have considered since 2015, the year I was invited to join the AARP Georgia Executive Council. The council is the leadership body for the work done by AARP staff and volunteers across the state.

Like many others facing their most senior years, when my husband and I moved to Savannah in 2013, the city where I grew up decades before, our goal was to find an age-friendly house, community and lifestyle, a place where we would comfortably age in place without ever having to move again.

Now, Chatham County and the greater Savannah area have officially joined about 80 AARP Age-Friendly locations in Georgia, with a commitment to respond to the needs of citizens across generations.

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Qualities of a good community

Police Chaplain Elder Willie Ferrell lead the community in prayer as they joined hands and united as one spirit. The gathering at Morrell park on River Street was organized by the Junior League and the Waterfront Association as a means of remembering, uniting and inspiring hope.
Police Chaplain Elder Willie Ferrell lead the community in prayer as they joined hands and united as one spirit. The gathering at Morrell park on River Street was organized by the Junior League and the Waterfront Association as a means of remembering, uniting and inspiring hope.

So, what does this mean for our communities? The AARP Age-Friendly program is made up of eight domains, plus four other areas of importance. The domains address the needs for housing, outdoor spaces, transportation, communication, civic participation and employment, social inclusion, health services and social participation.

Four additional areas of concern (all of which are explained online at aarp.org/livability) are emergency preparedness, elder abuse, public safety and dementia-friendly.

In Chatham County, the percentage of residents 60 years and older is 16 percent. Across the nation in just over a decade, by 2034, the nation will be made up of more people who are older adults than children for the first time ever. As a designated community, the next step is for leadership and residents in Chatham County to spend time prioritizing the domains and the other areas cited as important for the county.

“The AARP Age-Friendly designation aligns perfectly with the Chatham Community Blueprint and the Board of Commissioner’s mission for Chatham County to be the best place for people to live, work and play,” according to Tara Jennings, strategic planning administrator for Chatham County. “This designation boosts the county’s efforts to adopt policies and programs that provide access to an array of recreational opportunities, promote connectivity for all residents, and to support community engagement.”

Areas of improvement

But there is some work to be done. The AARP Public Policy Institute measures “livability scores” for all communities. The Chatham County livability score of 52 barely puts us in the top half of livability in the nation. We live in an area where life expectancy is 77 years (compared to 79 years for the nation), poverty is at 15% of the population, upward mobility is 35% and 8% of households do not have access to a vehicle. The quest is to find solutions for improvement in these and other areas.

Other communities that have gone through this process have asked questions like this: How important is public transportation to the aging process? How do we provide quality healthcare for citizens of all ages and all who fall in the category of poverty? Do we have enough housing for multiple generations to age in place? How accessible are public spaces, and are there enough outdoor and recreational facilities to serve the needs of all ages in the community? Are there adequate bicycle paths and sidewalks for people of all physical abilities?

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Measuring the quantity and quality of these factors will be important. It’s commendable that the eight communities in Chatham County will be working together to focus on helping the region and the state provide an environment to help citizens live and age well.

Hopefully, the next steps will engage citizens to prioritize and create action plans for the age-friendly domains. I am no longer on the AARP Georgia Executive Council, but as an active participant with the local group of AARP volunteers, I pledge to work alongside my fellow volunteers to do what we can to make "age-friendly" a consistent theme for quality of life.

This is a column by Wanda Lloyd, a retired newspaper editor and author of “COMING FULL CIRCLE: From Jim Crow to Journalism.”
This is a column by Wanda Lloyd, a retired newspaper editor and author of “COMING FULL CIRCLE: From Jim Crow to Journalism.”

In the county’s March membership application letter, Commission Chairman Chester Ellis made this commitment: “We look forward to working in collaboration with AARP Georgia staff, our community partners and stakeholders, and residents to help make our county a place where we can all successfully age with pride and dignity.”

That’s the charge and the challenge - to participate in the process to remove barriers and enact policies to make our community more comfortable and more livable.

This article originally appeared on Savannah Morning News: Making Savannah a good community for the elderly will take work