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Grand Rapids seeking 'age-friendly community' designation

In her 2018 "State of the City" address, Mayor Bliss made "Where We Live: Communities for All Ages," the Grand Rapids book of the year.

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. - Grand Rapids is gaining national attention as a hot spot for millennials, but city officials want to market Michigan's second-largest city as a great place to grow old.

The Grand Rapids City Commission unanimously passed a resolution Tuesday to seek designation as an Age-Friendly Community by the World Health Organization. The WHO's Age-Friendly and Cities and Communities program started in 2006, and the AARP helped bring it to the U.S. in 2012.

"We want people to be able to grow up here and raise their families here, but we also want people to be able to age-in-place here," said Mayor Rosalynn Bliss at the Committee of the Whole meeting. "And so I think this sends that strong message that we're listening and that we care."

Being an age-friendly community benefits everyone, said Suzanne Schulz, Grand Rapids managing director of design and development.

"We talk about the curb-cut effect," Schulz said. "With the Americans for Disabilities Act, they had to put in curb cuts for people with wheelchairs. Well moms with strollers use those, or delivery guys use those for their carts. So we recognize that it really benefits everyone with this designation."

The WHO and AARP look at eight different domains when assessing quality of life for older people:

  • Outdoor spaces and buildings
  • Transportation
  • Housing
  • Social participation
  • Respect and social inclusion
  • Civic participation and employment
  • Communication and information
  • Community and health services

Grand Rapids started outreach for the age-friendly program a few years ago and conducted a listening tour last fall, Schulz said.

"We took over 2,000 comments this past fall in 23 community meetings," she said. "Transportation is an issue for [seniors]....housing was also a big concern, especially being able to age in-place. And then also information. We're becoming an increasingly digital society, and seniors may not be adept at doing that."

The city will create an age-friendly advisory council as part of a community action plan that will "inform the citywide Master Plan effort." Schulz said they hope to have the action plan complete by February.

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