August 08. 2018 11:32AM

Northern NH towns make pledge to become ‘age friendly’

By ROBERTA BAKER
New Hampshire Union Leader


Nine northern New Hampshire towns and Fryeburg, Maine have combined forces to become an age-friendly community together, joining the AARP’s Network of Age-Friendly Communities as the Mount Washington Valley, pledging to plan and coordinate changes in housing, transportation, health services and employment to enhance positive living for seniors as well as younger residents.

It’s the first time rural towns in New Hampshire have banded together as a single resource-sharing and planning entity for the purpose of becoming age-friendly, and the first time such an initiative has crossed state lines, said Todd Fahey, state director of AARP New Hampshire.

The planning network includes the Mount Washington Valley towns of Albany, Bartlett, Chatham, Conway, Eaton, Freedom, Jackson, Madison, and Tamworth plus Fryeburg — and serves as a model for other rural New England towns seeking to improve livability for residents at all life stages, including seniors.

“Well-designed, livable communities promote wellbeing, sustain economic growth, and make for happier, healthier residents of all ages” by adopting features such as safe, walkable streets, age-friendly and affordable housing and transportation options, access to key services, an opportunities to participate in outdoor recreation, and civic and community activities, Fahey said.

“We are extremely excited and look forward to collectively working on solutions that will enhance the daily lives of older people in our community,” said George Cleveland, Executive Director of the Gibson Center for Senior Services in North Conway, which helped bring the communities together.

Changes are planned, implemented and assessed in three phases over a five-year period, and continue in areas that include the design of outdoor spaces and buildings, access to leisure and cultural activities that enable seniors to interact with peers and younger people, greater opportunities for paid work and volunteer activities for older residents, improved access to home-based services and health care, and programs that promote ethnic and cultural diversity, as well as interaction and communication across the generations.

So far New Hampshire municipalities pledging to become age friendly have been located in the more densely populated southern tier, and include Portsmouth, Goffstown and Dover. The Southern New Hampshire Planning Commission has coordinated the efforts of 14 downstate communities which have evaluated their programs and potential for becoming age-positive places through the “Becoming Age Friendly Project.” Through the AARP network, the Mount Washington Valley has access to a learning network that includes the solutions and volunteer efforts in rural communities nationwide.

“This is about local control, about how to design communities so they’re good for ages seven to 70, and nine to 90. It’s also about attracting and retaining young people,” Fahey said.

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Silver Linings is a continuing Union Leader/Sunday News report focusing on the issues of New Hampshire’s aging population and seeking out solutions. Union Leader reporter Roberta Baker would like to hear from readers about issues related to aging. She can be reached at rbaker@unionleader.com or (603) 206-1514. See more at www.unionleader.com/aging. This series is funded through a grant from the Endowment for Health.