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: 12/12/2019 10:27:29 PM
Modified: 12/12/2019 10:27:18 PM

GREENFIELD — As the county’s population ages, town leaders, elected officials and planners 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, safety, health, 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.

“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 collaborative he leads includes Tufts Insurance, which also provides resources and information.

He said it encourages collaboration between health organizations, wellness organizations, local government, businesses, educational institutions and philanthropists.

The idea is to consider all residents, he said, because everyone will age, and to make communities inclusive and barrier-free, so that municipal buildings, parks and all other 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,” he said. “It should be looked at as an opportunity.”

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.”

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

Fuccione 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.

Besides residents, he said 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.

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

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

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

Reach Anita Fritz at
413-772-0261, ext. 269 or afritz@recorder.com.


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