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Cities Became More Livable for ALL in 2021

As 2021 wrapped, I, like many, took some time to reflect on the year.

Fighting for the policy supports, protections, and improvements older Americans need – especially during the ongoing pandemic – has never been more complex or more needed. That’s why I’m especially proud of what we accomplished in our LIVABLE COMMUNITIES work.

AARP’s Livable Communities strategy focuses on enabling people 50+ to stay in their communities and thrive as they age. And while it has been one of our priorities for a number of years, it’s more important than ever considering our aging population.

Here’s a snapshot of the progress we saw in 2021. 

Helping Cities Leverage Federal Funding

AARP is fighting to make sure that the $130+ billion in funding available to cities and counties under the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (ARPA) is invested in ways that encourage livability for residents of all ages and abilities.

For example:

  • AARP state teams worked with local leaders and partners to help ensure effective implementation of housing assistance programs under ARPA so older residents struggling financially could stay in their homes. 
  • We also released a new resource to help local officials leverage ARPA funding opportunities that will strengthen their communities for the future, and we hosted tele-town halls with mayors across the country to help connect older adults with their local leaders.

And, we just announced our 2022 AARP Community Challenge grant program, which will continue to support efforts to engage older adults in discussions about how ARPA and other federal funding should be used in their communities. 

Driving Change from the Ground Up

We are also focusing on results through investments in on-the-ground change makers who we meet through AARP’s work in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Many are connected through AARP’s Age Friendly Network, which saw 114 new communities join in 2021, bringing the total up to more than 600.

  • AARP distributed nearly $3.2 million to fund 244 projects in urban, rural, and suburban communities through our annual Community Challenge grant program. Since 2017, AARP has awarded over 800 grants totaling more than $9 million to nearly 600 different communities, with a total population reaching close to 108 million people.
  • AARP also provided communities with expert technical assistance to advance transportation, housing, placemaking, parks, public spaces, and economic development initiatives. Our Livable Communities Technical Advisors Program conducted 70 engagements last year and has now provided assistance to over 200 communities since 2018.
  • And in 2021, AARP successfully advocated for more than 100 state and local policy changes to improve communities – from implementing Complete Streets programs to amending zoning codes to allow the production of accessory dwelling units and more.

Securing High-Speed Internet Access for Older Americans                                                   

AARP is committed to increasing affordability and digital equity when it comes to internet access for older adults. 

  • This year, we advocated for the Emergency Broadband Benefit (EBB): an FCC program that helps families and households struggling to afford internet service during the COVID-19 pandemic. And AARP actively encouraged eligible older Americans to sign up. To date, EBB has enrolled more than 7.1 million participants – and data released by the FCC in October reflects that over 4 in 10 subscribers (41%) are 50+, demonstrating strong demand.
  • AARP also successfully advocated for new programs funded through the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act to help ensure all Americans have affordable, reliable broadband access regardless of where they live. These include a permanent subsidy program similar to EBB, new grants to prioritize unserved and underserved areas when building new networks, and programs to ensure that people have the skills, technology, and support they need. 
  • In addition, AARP representatives in states and communities across the country are serving on workgroups and commissions to inform deployment plans, collaborate with community organizations to develop and implement training approaches, and get the word out about programs to reduce the cost of internet service.

Reimagining Transportation

AARP is also committed to helping older Americans get better connected through safer and more diverse transportation options.

The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act represents an important step forward in providing greater choice in transportation options for people of all ages – particularly in rural areas and small towns. AARP successfully advocated for the inclusion of new programs to improve roadway safety, modernize and expand public transportation, and make walking and bicycling safer for all residents.

In addition, AARP’s Driver Safety program is also continuing to advance cutting-edge mobility solutions for older Americans. Through a pilot program, Ride@50, we are servicing riders with a full-service transportation solution in Ann Arbor, MI, Columbia, SC, and Dallas, TX. This effort included a partnership with Toyota that gave free rides to vaccination sites, along with the donation of 16 vehicles in nine communities.

Looking Ahead

Despite all these examples of progress, much work remains. Helping people not just age, but THRIVE, in place is a multifaceted issue, so to make real change we need multifaceted solutions. As 2022 gets underway, I look forward to collaborating with other experts in the field to make our communities more livable for ALL people.

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