A publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

‘Livable Lexington’ project promotes quality of life, economic development, social equity

Lexingtonians will soon be asked to ponder an important question: What would make the city more livable?
 

Is it affordable housing? Access to transportation? Opportunities for employment and civic participation? Adequate health services?
 

How about all of the above … and then some?
 

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These are just a few of the features identified by the Livable Lexington project as “essential” for promoting quality of life, economic development and social equity in the community. Project officials will soon be surveying citizens for their ideas as well, and with that input they hope to create a plan to make Lexington, indeed, more livable.
 

“Lexington is a wonderful city, but there is always room for improvement,” said Mary Crowley-Schmidt, assistant director of the Bluegrass Area Agency on Aging and Independent Living, as well as a member of the Livable Lexington team. “That’s especially true where senior adults are concerned. A Livable Lexington is also an age-friendly Lexington.”
 

In fact, Crowley-Schmidt said, the Livable Lexington project was initiated with the city’s senior adults in mind. After all, Lexington’s population of 312,000 includes 92,000 people over the age of 50. And the 50-plus population is expected to increase by 22 percent by 2020, in what some call the “silver tsunami.”
 

“We believe that a community that takes care of its senior adults is a community that takes care of all its citizens,” Crowley-Schmidt said.
 

The project, spearheaded by Mayor Jim Gray’s Senior Services Commission, came about after a series of community “conversations” called Ask Lexington in 2011. Kristy Stambaugh, the aging services and disabilities support administrator for Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government, said it became clear from those conversations that “our community was engaged and was interested and had a lot of ideas of how to make our community more livable for everybody.”
 

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“The Senior Services Commission seized on that interest and decided to take it to the next step,” she added.
 

The commission, on which both Stambaugh and Crowley-Schmidt serve, joined forces with AARP Kentucky and immediately began efforts to join the organization’s Age-Friendly Communities network – a group of cities and towns that commit to improving their age-friendliness in eight key areas of community life. Lexington is the only Kentucky city in the network, however at least one other city – Bowling Green – is working toward it.
 

“AARP already has in place the mechanisms for promoting livability in communities,” Crowley-Schmidt said. “Teaming with them to apply the idea to Lexington made perfect sense.”
 

In fact, the project team decided to gauge Lexington’s livability using the eight domains AARP believes influence the health and quality of life of older adults. Created by the World Health Organization, those domains are: outdoor spaces and buildings; transportation; housing; social participation; respect and social inclusion; civic participation and employment; communication and information; and community support and health services.
 

The Livable Lexington team, with a pledge of support from the mayor, convened a summit in May to talk about the project and to ask attendees how well Lexington is doing in the area of livability and to get their ideas on how to make improvements. Forty-two people from a variety of backgrounds attended.
 

“We broke up into small groups to talk about the eight domains. It was interesting to see that Lexington is a great place to live but this group had a lot of suggestions on we can make it even better for people of all ages and abilities,” Stambaugh said.
 

Stambaugh and Crowley-Schmidt compiled data from the first summit and brought people together again in July to share the findings and to create a survey that would garner additional input from the broader community. It’s set to be released Oct. 20.
 

“It will be sent not only to AARP members but to the wider community through other outlets, including online. We don’t just want to target older people, we want to hear from everyone,” Stambaugh said.
 

Results of the survey will “lead us toward creation of a plan for Livable Lexington,” she added. “We will continue to work in our subgroups, based on the eight domains of livability, and will ask each subgroup to start coming up with projects … small things that the community can do to become more livable for everyone.”
 

Stambaugh also emphasized that many projects are already in the works and that future projects likely will be “driven toward changing ordinances and policies that would encourage livability – addressing zoning, ordinances, building codes and things like that that would enable us to move forward.”
 

The small projects would hopefully be a springboard to other, more comprehensive projects with investment from the community, Crowley-Schmidt added.
 

“The tagline for our project is ‘What’s friendly for strollers is friendly for wheelchairs,’ so it really incorporates projects that would make the city livable for all ages,” Crowley-Schmidt said. “That means having sidewalks that are well-maintained and free of obstructions. It means that all city services are accessible by publication transportation. It means that community events attract all generations. There will be plenty of opportunities for all interests to buy in.”
 

An example of a project that could be initiated by a community stakeholder is something Crowley-Schmidt and Stambaugh saw being done in the city of Memphis, Tennessee, in conjunction with the public schools. It’s call the “walking bus stop” program and enlists senior adults to walk schoolchildren to bus stops and schools.
 

Another such project is one in which Lexington has already initiated – becoming designated a “Gigabit City” (see KyForward story here). In September, Gray announced plans to issue an official request for information to gather interest in a potential public-private partnership or commercial-only solution to build a fiber-optic network. Although not officially part of the Livable Lexington project, it fits nicely into what project members are aiming for, Stambaugh said.
 

“Lexington has already demonstrated that it is a community of action. We feel confident that residents will participate in this initiative to continue our quest as a great American city,” she added.
 

For more information about the Livable Lexington project call 859-258-3806. To take the survey online after Oct. 22, when it’s released, click here.

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