|Mon, Sep 01, 2014 10:02 PM
May 28, 2014 | 10:51 AM
"Historic downtowns have the potential to provide great amenities — shopping, housing, services, activities — conveniently located to each other."
This sounds like a description of where most of us would want to live. Unfortunately, many communities, including ours here in Harrison County, are working to discover what these downtowns should look like and have included to meet the needs of those who will live there.
Earlier this month, I attended a program in Huntington titled "Creating Communities for a Lifetime" hosted by Indiana Landmarks. It could have easily taken place here; the concerns and goals expressed by those in attendance were very similar to ones we hear here.
But as we consider what our future community will look like, the panelists brought up some good points.
One was the statistic that, here in the United States, each day for the next 18 years, there will be 8,000 people turn 65. John Marron with the Lifelong Indiana Coalition and Indiana Public Policy Institute, referred to it as the "silver tsunami."
Megan Coler, with Indiana Housing and Community Development Authority, asked if communities are prepared to handle the increasing number of seniors, many of whom will want to continue to live on their own.
Coler, who said it's not a problem that can't be solved "unless we don't address the issues," talked about six guiding principles to preparing for this wave of aging Baby Boomers. They included engaging the seniors in the process; ensuring a range of affordable housing options for all stages of life; providing accessibility to transportation options; using land use and zoning tools to create a welcoming community; supporting the economic well-being of adults and caregivers; and strengthening a community's assets, amenities and supports.
Marron said none of this is new; it was how communities used to be established until one invention, the automobile, came along, allowing people to commute farther away from their homes.
But by creating communities where seniors can "age in place" keeps them connected to the past and allows for intergenerational interactions, he said.
It makes sense. Think about your parents or grandparents, depending on your age. A few generations ago, generally, young people married someone from their own community and the man, who may have served time in the military, worked outside of the home.
Have you known any of your elders who didn't want to leave their home as it became difficult for them to be self-sustaining? I'm beginning to have these conversations with my own mother.
In creating a welcoming community, it can be difficult to decide which should come first: wait for the people to come before making the necessary improvements or get those amenities in place that will make it more inviting for those who are looking to relocate, or even remain, in the area.
The mayor of Huntington, Brooks Fetters, talked about the rebirth of Drover Town, a German area that was in need of some improvements.
"We started with one block," he said, and, after getting with an organization called Pathfinders Services, the city extended street lamps, made sidewalk improvements, removed dying trees and replaced them with new ones and created a new trail that connected with an existing one.
This is exactly what our community of Laconia is working on now, determining a plan for the next 20 years. Many of the town's residents have provided input about which streets and sidewalks need improving, which houses or buildings need to be removed due to safety concerns and, among other things, what can be done to provide activities for people of all ages. (There will be a public meeting tomorrow evening, Thursday, at 6, at the Boone Township Volunteer Fire Dept. for those who are interested to look at the top five goals the steering committee is considering.)
But back to Huntington, where the mayor said Drover Town was becoming a more "walkable, rollable, cycleable" community.
"It's not organizations that get things started; it's people," he said.
The Rev. Richard Strick, pastor at St. Peter's First Community Church, site of the affiliate council meeting for Indiana Landmarks, talked about pride and prejudice.
"It's not just a book," he said.
Rather, it's a "people movement" that makes things happen, he said while talking about how the church hosts a variety of events and activities in its parking lot, which many in the community feel more comfortable attending rather than going to something inside the church building.
Strick told how he would go to the local diner to have face-to-face conversations with the residents, where he was able to gain a sense of their past in order to help guide their future.
"Be dedicated and make small steps," he said. "It goes a long way to building credibility."
It takes a great deal of patience in order to create change. Strick said that's because those who aren't ready to embrace the change need to have their concerns and objections heard.
That's why Strick recommends "overcommunicating" what's trying to be achieved.
And while building communities for a lifetime, planners need to be mindful of those with disabilities.
"We have to learn to think outside of the box," said Greg Fehribach, an attorney who founded The Fehribach Group in Indianapolis and a leading consultant about accessible design.
He has a better perspective about accessibility because he has a disability that requires him to use an electric wheelchair to get around. But that didn't stop him from creating a home in downtown Indianapolis where he can "walk" to church, restaurants and his neighbors' homes.
"I get around without really getting in a car," Fehribach said of his community.
The Americans With Disabilities Act goes a long way to prevent discrimination against those with disabilities, but, as Fehribach pointed out, there is no "grandfather clause" in the ADA. With regard to historic buildings, there are ways to maintain the integrity of the original building while making it accessible, such as making a back entrance available.
"Historic preservation is vitally important to preserve the authenticity of our places; it makes us more competitive to attract employers and workers," Marron said. "It's not only about seniors; it's about making the world a great place for everyone."
Turning our thoughts back to Harrison County, this is home to some 40,000 people. If you're a resident now, is it meeting your needs? What needs to be done to make it your community for a lifetime?
Contact me by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by regular mail, 301 N. Capitol Ave., Corydon, IN 47112, with your thoughts.