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Open all year-long

Last week, it cooled down a bit, and I could sit out under my pergola to sip a glass of iced tea and enjoy the weather of the day. What is more peaceful than seeing butterflies and hummingbirds while watching your tomatoes grow?
I planted a full garden this summer. However, my use of it has mostly been limited to racing in and out of the air conditioning to water the parched soil. There has been no sitting casually and dreaming in the hot and humid days of the summer of 2010. It made me wonder about the value of all the hopes I had for this garden and my outside patio. It was beautiful, but who had a chance to really experience it? When friends stop by, we always ponder whether we should sweat it out on the decorated summer porch or go back into the ‘same ole, same ole’ of the house but where it is comfortable.
One never knows what the weather will produce in Indiana, be it is summer or winter. In parts of our country that are normally cold, one can always add clothing. Minnesota is an example of a state where the residents just layer up or down to work and play outside all year long. The medical statistics show Minnesotans as being healthier than we sedentary Hoosiers. In hot climates, I guess the locals’ skin has developed more pigment over the generations and their hair is heavier to protect their heads. But there is only so much clothing a person can take off before being arrested. I have heard that air conditioning saved the Southland in the USA.
How will we provide a year-round usable environment here in Indiana? With the construction materials available today, we can create buildings that are open to the outside world through large glass walls and windows. But at the same time, with our current awareness of energy limitations, we hesitate to build like we did even a few years ago. So, how do we develop our communities to be user-friendly whether it is sleet or heat we confront? How do we provide good experiences for people with varying physical capacities and personal preferences?
Packing one’s bags and going to a more pleasant climate has become a common practice for Hoosiers. Sometimes I feel like I am the only person over age 65 still left in Indiana in the winter. I know it is challenging to dig out one’s car when it is cold and wet. I also know it is not a productive solution to cozy up in a big easy chair and watch TV all the time. This is a ‘head-scratching’ challenge for all of us as we plan for the future.
Ours is an aging population with a changing set of needs. We should try to provide all citizens with opportunities and conditions that allow them to participate. It is best when everyone is able to pitch in and contribute to the life of our community. I remember my mother used to say she couldn’t get too involved in organizations as a volunteer because she left Corydon every winter and headed south. We need the institutional knowledge, the wisdom, the willing hands and the compassion of our senior citizens all year long. And they need us ‘ THEIR family, THEIR long-time neighbors and THEIR community.
How do we plan, build and provide venues that can get people engaged in life, no matter what the weather? It won’t be a simple task. There are so many factors to consider: transportation and the location of housing, retail, service, educational and entertainment centers to name a few. Will we still be chained to a car-oriented transportation system? Will we encourage and value activities that use body, mind and spirit? Just building more senior citizens’ housing will not do it. We should also make sure we have opportunities for a well-rounded, stimulating and independent life for as many of our citizens as possible. If we accomplish this, we can do less worrying about a dwindling tax base, bored relatives and under-served or utilized friends and family.