Prairie Village, Mission examine what’s needed to be a community for all ages

02/18/2014 5:42 PM

03/18/2014 2:36 PM

A group of Kansas City’s inner-ring suburbs is working up a grade card to measure how well they cater to the needs of citizens of all ages.

“It’s a marketing strategy for cities — to say Mission is inviting to residents of all ages,” said Martin Rivarola, that city’s community development director.

The urgency of focusing on the needs of the elderly, in particular, comes because the baby boomers of the 20th century are rapidly becoming the age wave of the 21st. In the Kansas City area, statistics show, 60 boomers a day turn 65 years of age.

For Johnson County, that means that by the year 2040, there will be nearly two and a half times the number of senior citizens there are today.

Since 2008, the Mid-America Regional Council has been working on the issues that flow from that demographic bulge via a project originally titled Kansas City 4 Aging in Community.

The project’s name was changed to KC Communities for All Ages after a group of national funders approached MARC in 2012 with the idea to pilot such a project. Kansas City was one of five metro areas across the nation to receive grants.

The Pfizer Foundation and Grantmakers in Aging wanted “to accelerate efforts already on the ground,” said Cathy Boyer-Shesol, who serves as project manager for MARC.

So MARC reached out to the members of its First Suburbs Coalition — a group of eight Missouri-side cities and 11 on the Kansas side — to work on the issue.

“The intent was to partner with these cities to expand our knowledge and tools to deal with an increasing aging population,” said Boyer-Shesol.

A series of meetings resulted in the publication in July of a “toolkit” titled “Making Your Community Work for All Ages.” That effort also produced an “idea book” with tips for homeowners and others to renovate homes and neighborhoods to better meet the needs of residents who want to age in place.

Now MARC has embarked upon Phase 2 of the project. The goal is to develop criteria for certifying a city as a “Community for All Ages.” The report card will consider such factors as housing, transportation, public spaces and more.

Four “First Suburbs” — Prairie Village and Mission in Kansas and Gladstone and Raytown in Missouri — have formed public-private task forces to address these issues, and MARC has hired a consultant firm to work with them. Their goal is to complete the work by June, and then to have the First Suburbs Coalition consider a resolution supporting Communities for All Ages certification.

Boyer-Shesol said it’s likely that not all the First Suburbs will seek certification; some may cherry-pick the strategies that serve them best. Nevertheless, she said, “It’s exciting work.”

John Benson, Raytown’s director of development and public affairs and staff member for his city’s task force, said the “Communities of All Ages” project fits in well with other work Raytown has done in recent years.

Benson cited the construction of sidewalks along major thoroughfares and streetscape improvements downtown to make the city more walkable. He also mentioned the addition of bike lanes to certain streets.

“We have to make our communities more livable,” Benson said. “The 2000 Census showed 60 percent of residents in owner-occupied houses have lived in them for 20 years or more. So we have an older population that wants to maintain strong ties to their community, and we want to let them continue to live in their homes in Raytown.”

Alan Napoli, a building official for Gladstone, put it this way: “People want the same things for different reasons, like public transport. Young people want it to go to work or for entertainment, while older people want it to go to the grocery store or to the doctor’s office.”

But making a city inviting for seniors and others is not solely up to governments.

“It’s really about cooperation — a partnership between public and private,” said Mission’s Rivarola. “We have to work with health and social services, public transportation. We touch a lot of those things, so it’s about reaching out to our partners.”

Rivarola cited his city’s development of the Mission Square senior apartment complex as an example of a public-private partnership envisioned by the Communities for All Ages project. The city gave up part of its community center parking lot to the builder of the apartment complex. Now residents can walk to the community center and to nearby shops and government offices.

Cities will examine their building codes, development incentives, public spaces and more when coming up with criteria for the “all ages” report card.

“It’s not designed to be easy to achieve, but to be useful,” said Rivarola.

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