Tattnall Square Park to be test area for AARP “Age-Friendly” features

Beneath a cloud of red AARP umbrellas, a caution-vest clad crowd circled Tattnall Square Park on Thursday, looking for all the little things that keep a good public space from becoming great.

Dan Burden, executive director of the Walkable and Livable Communities Institute, loped ahead of two dozen people from AARP and various local organizations. Tall and enthusiastic, he pointed out awkward crosswalks, dirt pathways and hot stretches of bare asphalt -- all of which contribute to keeping the area from becoming a “100 percent location” that’s attractive to everyone, Burden said.

But with a little planning, coordination and attention to detail, the Tattnall Square neighborhood and many other spots around Macon could become models of popular, accessible design, he said.

“What a canvas to work from!” Burden said.

The AARP just declared Macon-Bibb County the first “Age-Friendly Community” in the United States. In partnership with the World Health Organization, the program started in April in seven states and the District of Columbia. But Macon-Bibb County is the first to receive the designation.

In exchange for that recognition and access to experts worldwide, local governments commit to making quality of life better for senior citizens in a variety of ways, many of which involve simple physical accessibility and safety. The five-year designation is supposed to start with two years of planning, then three years of putting the plans into place.

Improvements and policies designed for the elderly, however, can make the area more attractive to everyone, local officials and AARP representatives maintain -- from more walkable streets to welcoming public spaces and more cultural and recreational activities.

The first planning for that future came Thursday at an all-day “Active Living Workshop” held at the Mercer University Religious Life Center. It was from there that Burden led participants around the nearby Tattnall Square area.

That neighborhood, which has already seen substantial revitalization work and heavy investment from Mercer, is expected to serve as a prototype for design features that can be copied all over town.

The morning discussion session focused on how various local groups can coordinate their plans to make a revitalized area work, said Karen Middleton, chief of resident initiatives for the Macon Housing Authority. Burden showed several slides of design features in other towns where he had worked, demonstrating how they fit together to make places friendly and accessible not only to senior citizens but also to everyone in a community, Middleton said.

Burden pointed out some things that had been done well around Tattnall Square, and some that could be done better -- median islands to slow traffic on College Street, more on-street parking and more landscaping.

“I think he’s the right person, for sure,” Middleton said.

Burden urged installation of more seating in and around the park. Myrtle Habersham, AARP key volunteer for Macon-Bibb County, said the director of the Macon-Bibb County Senior Citizens Center just across Adams Street has already told her that the center’s patrons would love to have nearby benches.

After a lunch break back at the religious life center, workshop participants went into a planning session. Alex Morrison, executive director of the Macon-Bibb County Urban Development Authority, said they all contributed ideas for a 100-day plan to improve walking access in the area and make streetscapes more attractive.

“What I’d really like to see is fully articulated sidewalks and better, ‘leaner’ streets that are more friendly to pedestrians and bicyclists,” he said.

Morrison said initial efforts are likely to focus on College Hill and the downtown area, but he wants to see them expand to the rest of the city. In large part, it will be public-sector work that attracts private developers to make more improvements, he said. Local governments and agencies need to “do our part” with welcoming streets, trees and sidewalks. And looking at things from the AARP’s perspective can make plans attractive to young professionals and people in mid-career, not only to senior citizens, Morrison said.

“That’s really how you can get the biggest economic impact from your public improvements,” he said.

To contact writer Jim Gaines call 744-4489.