San Diego Joins the Age-Friendly Communities Club

Last month, the City of San Diego announced that it is joining AARP’s Network of Age-Friendly Communities, which already counts the County of San Diego and the cities of La Mesa and Chula Vista as members. What does this mean for our region? According to the AARP, membership in the age-friendly communities network does not mean that a city is currently age-friendly or a great place to retire. It simply means that elected leaders have committed to work toward making their community a great place to live for people of all ages.

Communities that join the age-friendly network must come up with an action plan centered on the World Health Organization’s eight domains of livability, which include housing and transportation, among others. For a community to be considered “age-friendly” by the WHO’s definition, it must have a number of essential features that enhance quality of life in each of the eight domains. For example, cities must offer frequent and reliable public transportation, have sufficient affordable housing, and design outdoor spaces with an emphasis on pedestrian safety. Unsurprisingly, many of the features that make life better for seniors tend to benefit everyone else in the community as well.

What happens next?

The city now has two years to develop an age-friendly action plan, a process that will involve data gathering, analysis, and community input. Once the action plan is adopted, the city will implement it, and spend the next three years testing, monitoring and evaluating its progress.

At the county level, this process is already well underway. San Diego County adopted its Age Well San Diego Action Plan in 2018, which outlines broad goals under the themes of Health & Community Support, Housing, Social Participation, Transportation, and Dementia-Friendly. The goals include everything from initiating outreach programs that connect seniors with health services and social support, to implementing zoning ordinances that encourage the construction of mixed-use developments and a variety of housing appropriate for all ages.

Chula Vista also adopted its Age-Friendly Action Plan in 2018. Like the county, Chula Vista developed goals to address health, transportation and housing, but it didn’t stop there. The city also included goals for Communication and Information, Healthy Food Access and Nutrition, Outdoor Spaces and Buildings, and Civic Participation and Employment.

Now it’s the City of San Diego’s turn. Projections show that the population of San Diegans age 60 and over will double to nearly 1 million people by the year 2030. As the eighth largest city in the country, San Diego has the opportunity to demonstrate real leadership with how it adapts to this aging population. To become an age-friendly community, San Diego will need to implement systems-level changes that make it easier for citizens to age in place and live healthy, vibrant, socially-connected lives. We applaud the city for taking the first step in joining the Age-Friendly Communities Network and will be rooting for its success.

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