Macon-Bibb wins ‘Age-Friendly’ honor from AARP

More than 50 people, including several Macon and Bibb County officials and agency heads, gathered Wednesday to celebrate Macon-Bibb County’s designation as the first AARP “Age-Friendly Community” in the United States.

At an event at Macon’s Terminal Station, AARP representatives lauded local leaders for joining the program, which aims to make the area more accessible for older residents in eight key ways.

The changes in policy and construction required by the program are often simple, seemingly common sense, but can make a huge difference -- and not just for senior citizens, said Georgia AARP state President Barry Reid.

For example, curb cuts designed for the elderly and disabled also make sidewalks more convenient for families with strollers and children on bicycles, he said.

“A community that is age-friendly is friendly to all ages,” Reid said.

Edward Johns, policy adviser in the AARP office of international affairs, congratulated Macon and Bibb County for becoming a model that other cities nationwide can follow.

“Georgia, like the whole country, is aging; and aging at a faster and faster pace,” he said.

In 2006, 10 percent of Georgia’s population was over age 65, he said. By 2030, that figure is projected to have climbed to 16 percent.

The Age-Friendly Communities initiative, a partnership with the World Health Organization, launched in April. At the inaugural ceremony in Washington, D.C., the only municipal leaders present were Bibb County Commission Chairman Sam Hart and Macon Mayor Robert Reichert, said Johns.

“Isn’t it wonderful to be first?” Hart said Wednesday. He thanked Karen Cooper, AARP associate state director, and Myrtle Habersham, AARP local key volunteer, for making a “too good to be true” offer to join the program.

The special purpose local option sales tax passed last year will pay for lots of construction and building renovation, and when that work is done it should be in compliance with Age-Friendly Community standards, Hart said.

The five-year designation comes with a commitment from local governments to improve the quality of life for older people in eight “domains,” Johns said: safe and accessible outdoor spaces, transportation, housing, access to leisure activities and culture, respect and social inclusion, civic participation and employment, communication and information, and community support and health services.

That effort will start with two years of planning, then three years of putting the plans into place, he said.

Reichert said the initiative could not come at a better time, as city and county governments move toward a Jan. 1, 2014, consolidation. The city is working on rebuilding its urban core and making the entire area walkable, including having adopted a “complete streets” policy to serve walkers, bikers and various forms of transportation, he said. As age-friendly standards are implemented, Reichert said, he looks forward to renewal of the designation in five years.

Dan Burden, executive director of the Walkable and Livable Communities Institute, said planners in the United States made many mistakes a half-century ago in building all transportation access around the personal car. Today’s planners are working to make communities equally accessible for all, including walkers and those without cars, he said.

As the first practical stage of planning, an “Active Living Workshop” is set for Thursday in the Tattnall Square Park neighborhood, starting at 8 a.m. at the Mercer University Religious Life Center, 1643 College St. Part of that workshop will be a walking survey of the neighborhood at 10:30 a.m. Work in the neighborhood can serve as a prototype to be copied all over town, after there’s been a chance to “polish and perfect” local features, said Burden, who will lead the walk.

To contact writer Jim Gaines, call 744-4489.