In 2006, the Age-Friendly Communities international effort was launched by the World Health Organization to help cities prepare for the parallel trends of a rapidly aging world population and increasing urbanization. Since 2012 AARP, an institutional affiliate of the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Global Network of Age-Friendly Cities and Communities, has led the effort to educate and support cities and communities that are interested in becoming designated as age-friendly communities in the U.S. In 2016, AARP and the City of Grand Rapids began seeking input from diverse stakeholders and taking the steps to seek formal designation for the City. In 2018, after two years of community engagement, the City applied for and was accepted as a member of the AARP Network of Age-Friendly Communities. The engagement efforts have continued in 2019, culminating in this Age-Friendly Grand Rapids Action Plan. Implementation of some of the Action Plan recommendations has already begun and work will continue in perpetuity. Annual reports will be submitted to AARP/WHO to sustain the Age-Friendly designation.
Grand Rapids is the second largest City in Michigan and, to date, one of eight communities in Michigan that has committed to creating a place to live that is inclusive and responsive to the needs of residents of all ages and from all walks of life. In October 2019, Michigan became the fifth state in the country and the first state in the Midwest to partner with AARP/WHO to become an age-friendly state. Michigan is one of the most rapidly aging states in the country. According to AARP the number of Michiganders 60 years and older is growing by 50,000 each year. By 2025, Michigan will be the first state where residents age 65 and older will outnumber those that are 18 and younger – a decade ahead of the national aging projection. This compelling data calls on Grand Rapids and the state of Michigan to become a leader in age-friendly planning and practices.
While age-friendly initiatives around the world may focus on WHO’s eight Domains of Livability, Grand Rapids is currently advancing work in the four domains that are most important to older adult Grand Rapids residents: Communication, Housing, Outdoor Spaces and Transportation. More than 500 older adults from every part of the City participated in Thought Leader meetings, Listening Tour events, bilingual surveys (online and in-person), Advisory, Subcommittee and Task Force meetings to identify the needs, gaps and opportunities that are included in the Action Plan.
It is worth noting that the City hopes to serve as a model for equitable and innovative engagement, particularly around engagement of older adults. The City has made substantial efforts to reach diverse populations with sessions oriented toward LGBTQ seniors, communities of color, homeless older adults and adults living with disabilities. The City also incorporated innovative engagement tools to complement traditional community meetings and surveying. One such tool is a City-designed game called “Grandy Land,” which leads players through the WHO domains and encourages them to consider their application to Grand Rapids. Another innovative engagement strategy resulted in a partnership for a “combined class” with traditional university students and older adults from a senior living community.
The City’s thorough engagement of residents and a wide variety of organizations has culminated in an Age-Friendly Action Plan supported by the Mayor, City Commission, City Manager and City Departments. The Plan has been integral to and aligned with, the City’s values of a safe, affordable, engaged, inclusive, equitable and vibrant Grand Rapids for all citizens. The implementation of the Plan will result in each Grand Rapids neighborhood being a place for successful aging.