Grand Rapids has earned a reputation as one of Michigan's most "hip" cities, but it also wants to be at the forefront of the movement to create places where age isn't a barrier to being active in community life.
The city is working to become part of the AARP Network of Age-Friendly Communities, which includes factors like housing, outdoor spaces and transportation to maximize the economic and social power of older residents. Associate state director at AARP Michigan, Jennifer Munoz, said with changing demographics, cities can't afford to focus only on the young.
"If a community doesn't address the needs of all populations, from stroller to walker, then we will lose residents in our communities," Munoz says. "So, it's important that we allow them the resources and the necessities so that they can age in place."
To get feedback from local residents, AARP Michigan is hosting 19 "listening sessions" in Grand Rapids over the next few weeks. More information is available on the AARP Michigan website.
Five other cities in the state are currently working toward the same age-friendly goal: Auburn Hills, East Lansing, Highland Park, Lansing and Southfield.
While age-friendly communities require taking a hard look at infrastructure and services, Munoz says there are small changes any community can make. One example: planting trees in downtown areas.
"Studies show that traffic actually goes slower when you have tree canopies," she says. "It provides shade, and it also makes it just a more friendly-looking environment to walk in a downtown area where there are trees throughout."
Right now, seniors are the fastest-growing age group in Michigan. By 2030, somewhere between a quarter to a third of the state's population is expected to be over the age of 65.