Topic: Why do rural areas lag in age friendly planning for public health?
In the US, rural communities face more challenges to meet the public health needs of elders and children than urban and suburban places. Rising rates of obesity among children and elders have led to calls for increased attention to opportunities for physical activity in streetscape design and park development. However, age-friendly planning and design guidelines are decidedly urban-focused. New Urbanist principles of density, walkability, and mixed-use are difficult to achieve in rural communities. In addition, rural communities typically provide lower levels of services. Scholars need to develop a rural lens for community planning that addresses physical design and service provision, and promotes civic engagement to help rural governments advance public health.
Sociologists as well as planners are giving greater attention to building age friendly communities to promote better public health. In 2014, the US based AARP (agency focused on aging) developed a Livability Index based on WHO’s eight domains of age-friendly communities. The index includes livability indicator scores on health, housing, neighborhood, transportation, environment, engagement, and opportunity. In 2017, we worked with AARP and the American Planning Association to conduct a survey of planners and local governments’ actions to build age-friendly communities. In this paper, we link the unique AARP livability indicators and the planners’ survey to determine which factors drive age-friendly communities which advance public health. We find that rural areas lag in health indicator, compared to urban and suburb (based on Scheffe test by metro status). We run OLS regression to examine the relation between the seven livability indicators and local government actions to build age-friendly environments. We find that places with more engagement rank higher on the AARP health outcome indicator. Local government actions to build age-friendly communities also play an important role in increasing the access and quality of healthcare. Planning has a key role to play in helping move rural communities forward in addressing public health challenges and create livable communities for all ages.