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Region Matters Thought Leader Uncategorized

Living Beyond Expectations

Kathryn Lawler

Kathryn Lawler
Manager, ARC Aging & Health Resources Division

Over the past 100 years, life expectancy has soared from the early 40s to the mid-80s. Twentieth century science, public health and medicine are responsible for these tremendous gains, and projections suggest that these trends will continue. Atlantans are living longer than ever before, yet the region’s physical environment and infrastructure investments continue to be made with little consideration for this newfound and unprecedented longevity. The question we now face is, What does it mean to live beyond life expectancy? Beyond Expectations?

The Atlanta Regional Commission and Public Broadcasting Atlanta are challenging the region to ask these questions and to re-imagine how we can create communities for all, regardless of age or ability. The conversation begins at 8 p.m., Tuesday, March 18 with a half-hour televised panel discussion on PBA 30. Guests examine how the region can join communities around the globe that are analyzing shifting demographic changes and planning to accommodate all. In addition, we have collected stories of Atlantans living into their 70s, 80s and 90s as they attempt to remain in their neighborhoods and communities. These vignettes will to air throughout the spring and summer.

ARC and Georgia AARP have been out in the community as well, engaging Baby Boomers, Generation Xers, Millennials, local officials and others  about what it means to grow older in the Atlanta region and what is needed to live beyond expectations. Through focus groups, community forums, key stakeholder meetings, an online survey and a telephone town hall, ARC has collected the opinions and perspectives of a diverse group of residents, which it will use in its present and future work.

In June, the region is invited to see what a Lifelong Community looks and feels like. Two blocks of Auburn Avenue will be transformed into a vibrant destination that appeals to and supports individuals both young and old. This section of the Old Fourth Ward will serve as a living laboratory illustrating the potential for new business, safer streets and healthy everyday living. Demonstrating that age-friendly design can benefit not only all residents but the economy of a local community, this exciting event is targeted in particular to local residents, elected officials, planners, developers, architects whose short- and long-term decisions can help the region adapt and prepare.

The 21st century offers the promise of longevity, but for the promise to be realized, communities must become places where people remain healthy and engaged throughout their lifetimes. We need more housing and transportation choices, better strategies for maintaining health and expanded access to services. As science and medicine increase our opportunity to life longer, community design and infrastructure must begin to reflect that longer lifespan.

Aging is a funny thing. As individuals, we often spend hundreds and thousands of dollars on procedures and drugs to pretend it isn’t happening. This is certainly our individual choice. But, as a region, we cannot continue to spend thousands and millions of dollars pretending aging isn’t happening. Longevity will be the demographic trend that defines the 21st century. The region has the opportunity to plan and prepare to maximize the potential of this shift or deny and delay while other metro regions across the globe move ahead.

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