Age Friendly Communities

Age­ Friendly Communities: Time to put Wisconsin on the map

By Diane Farsetta

Making communities more walkable and housing more affordable. Strengthening community supports and health services. Making social and civic bodies more inclusive.


Such progressive goals would benefit any community. But the aging population – in Dane County and across the U.S. – is making them a necessity. In response to worldwide trends of increased life expectancy and rapid urbanization, the World Health Organization launched its “Age­Friendly Cities and Communities Program” in 2006. The WHO checklist of essential features of age-friendly cities includes such amenities as good public transport, well­ maintained green spaces, affordable housing near services and the rest of the community, a range of low­cost or free public events, and wide public access to computers and the internet.

In the U.S., where 10,000 Baby Boomers turn 65 each day, we face particular challenges. The dominant culture worships youth and segregates people and activities by age. Many older Americans live in suburban areas, where it's difficult to meet basic needs without driving. Older adults' overwhelming preference to “age in place” is often seen as a health and safety issue, rather than an opportunity to benefit from their contributions.

So far, 54 U.S. communities have committed to becoming age friendly. None of them are in Wisconsin, where those age 65 and older will make up nearly one-quarter of the population by 2040.

Some Wisconsin communities have adopted aspects of the age­friendly approach. Milwaukee's Connecting Caring Communities Partnership fostered civic partnerships in seven neighborhoods that led to the establishment of senior shuttle routes, public technology centers and intergenerational peace circles. Madison was named a top city for successful aging, based on our high­quality health care system and recreational options. (Madison's “needs work” list included public transport, access to groceries and affordable housing.)

Becoming age­friendly – being inclusive, sustainable, healthy, accessible, interdependent and engaged – benefits entire communities, not just older residents. Framing progressive policies as age friendly may expand our allies in advocacy.

It's time to put Wisconsin on the age­friendly communities map.