What makes a city great for an 8-year-old, an 80-year-old, and anyone in between? Local government staff, review board members, and several citizens converged at the Historic RailPark & Train Museum in December to discuss that very issue. The guidebook: the 8-80 Cities initiative.
8-80 Cities is a Canadian-based non-profit organization striving to “bring citizens together to enhance mobility and public space so that together we can create more vibrant, healthy, and equitable communities,” according to 880cities.org. In layman’s terms, the core of 8-80 Cities’ goal is to help communities develop in a way that accommodates people of all ages, reinforced by the organization’s slogan, “Creating cities for all.”
David Simor, project manager for 8-80 Cities, detailed in a presentation for those in attendance at the December event three focus areas – termed “rights” – communities should consider to design with everyone in mind. The key ingredients in creating age-friendly cities, Simor said, are the right to mobility, the right to public space, and the right to participate.
Simor cited examples from communities around the world that did anything from closing off streets a few times a year for festivals, to installing small trampoline platforms in public spaces. The photos Simor showed from these communities included toddlers, adults, and the elderly all participating in what their communities had to offer. The latter demographic – notably the baby boomers – occupy a large sector of the population, and few communities provide amenities senior citizens can enjoy. Simor pointed out that, while sports fields and playground equipment are good to offer children, a vibrant community takes into account that its older inhabitants want to do more than sit on park benches, which is often the only “active” option cities give their elders.
Specific local needs and areas for improvement that the group present at the event discussed included more amenities and walking trails throughout both single and multi-family residential developments, extended crossing time at crosswalks, street design to encourage safe walkability, and more non-age specific community events.
Lloyd Ferguson, who serves on the Board of Adjustments, attended the presentation, along with other BOA members and a Planning Commissioner. “The ‘8 to 80 Program’ would offer the unique opportunity to improve both existing and developing neighborhoods. The benefits would include economic growth along with safe space for community wellness,” Ferguson said.
Simor emphasized the benefits of building age-friendly cities and how Bowling Green and Warren County are ripe for opportunity. “From economic and environmental resiliency, to public health, to academic achievement in children and social connection in older adults, investing in sustainable mobility and high quality parks and public spaces should be no brainers. Yet too often these are the first things on the chopping block come budget season. Bowling Green is the fastest growing city in the state. The opportunity and responsibility to grow in a healthy, vibrant, and inclusive way is immediate. The question is, what will the residents of Bowling Green decide to do with this once in a generation chance?”