More Areas Become Age Friendly in Massachusetts

Posted on 10/31/22 by Jill Gambon

Five years ago, Fred Brusseau, of Chelmsford, was having lunch with a friend who described efforts to make his town more livable for all ages. Brusseau was intrigued.

He liked the idea of a community improving amenities for residents young and old. He also liked the way town leaders, businesses and residents were pitching in to do so.

Brusseau thought the initiative would be a good fit for Chelmsford, where residents share a deep sense of civic engagement and the population of older adults is growing. So he researched the AARP Network of Age-Friendly States and Communities, then approached local officials and businesses.

The idea caught on. Dozens of people in town got involved.

Chelmsford, which joined in 2019, is one of nearly 100 Massachusetts communities (as well as the commonwealth itself) that belong to the AARP network. Municipalities like Worcester are hoping to emulate the success.

Chelmsford’s blueprint involves addressing the network’s eight aspects of livability: outdoor spaces and buildings, transportation, communications and information, civic participation and employment, housing, social participation, health services and supports, and respect and social inclusion.

Brusseau, 77 and retired, cochaired Chelmsford’s age-friendly planning commission and now cochairs its implementation committee. He notes that the town has already added a park, a free ride service run by volunteers and a pop-up mobile library.

Livable for all is goal

Boston was the first Massachusetts locality to join the AARP network, in 2014, and Worcester did so this May.

Joanne Clarke, AARP Massachusetts representative on the Age Friendly Worcester committee, says many agencies are involved. “It’s like we are connecting the dots,” she says. “Our goal is a city that is safe, secure and affordable for all.”

Worcester will conduct focus groups and listening sessions, then develop a plan. Changes have already begun, with new benches and bike paths as well as improvements to sidewalks and roads, to make the downtown safer for pedestrians, says Clarke, 71.

She notes that as a college town, Worcester is well positioned to bring all ages together. She’d like to see incentives for medical students to study geriatrics and a program where students rent affordable rooms in homes owned by older residents.

“There is already so much amazing work to support and engage older adults in Worcester,” says James Fuccione, senior director of the Massachusetts Healthy Aging Collaborative, which works with age-friendly localities. Other Worcester County communities are getting on board, including the 40 involved in the Age Friendly Central Mass initiative.

For those just getting started, cities and towns that are farther ahead in their age-friendly efforts can help with best practices and technical assistance, says Mike Festa, state director of AARP Massachusetts.

Chelmsford’s Brusseau thinks the time and effort are well worth it. “For older residents there’s more mobility and less isolation, resulting in a longer, healthier life,” he says.

Learn more at aarp.org/livable or aarp.org/ma.

 Jill Gambon is a writer living in West Newbury, Mass. 

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