Livable Communities: A Discussion at the Bellagio Conference

by Published On: Sep 04, 2012Updated On: Apr 02, 2015

Some issues are just too big for one organization, or even one nation, to address adequately. The aging of the world’s population is one of those issues.

I’m convinced that we won’t be able to overcome the challenges associated with global aging – or take full advantage of the opportunities – without help from many experts working in a variety of disciplines. That’s why a recent international conference, which I attended at the Rockefeller Foundation’s prestigious Bellagio Center in northern Italy, was so important.

About 25 economists, sociologists, physicians, city planners, aging and public health experts, engineers and transportation researchers came to Italy for the small meeting. These experts hailed from the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Italy, Germany, China, Thailand, Greece and Russia. Staff came from major international health organizations, including the World Health Organization and HelpAge International. Corporations like Pfizer and Bayer were also on hand.

Housing Plus Services and Livable Communities

During my conference presentation on global aging issues, I offered the “Housing Plus Services” model as a strategy for supporting the world’s aging population.

The LeadingAge Center for Applied Research has been studying this model for many years. We believe that affordable senior housing communities  both publicly subsidized and market rate – can serve as a valuable platform for the delivery of the long-term services and supports that older adults need to age in place.

The Housing Plus Services concept tied in beautifully with the conference’s focus on “livable communities.” We spent 4 days in intensive discussions about how a community’s infrastructure, economic and social features could be designed to help older people remain healthy, independent and engaged. We shared our knowledge and vision from our various professional and subject area perspectives. We also brainstormed about ways to encourage the developed and developing nations of the world to create livable communities that would embrace and support their rapidly aging populations.

Learning from Others around the World 

I learned 3 important lessons during the meeting:

  • Solutions are within reach. It was reassuring to discover that transportation experts from around the world are exploring new ways to keep older people active, engaged and connected after they can no longer drive. Some of the potential solutions – including the use of tax credits to fund age-friendly transit systems – have real potential to change lives.
  • Economic challenges breed innovative strategies. It was fascinating to learn how the economically challenged countries of western Europe are pioneering community-based approaches to support their retirees. 
  • Success depends on interdisciplinary approaches. The value of the conference became clear to me when a neurologist educated us about pathological and normal aging. He then helped us explore how a better understanding of these aging processes can inform more appropriate policy decisions. Interdisciplinary discussions like this are so important. They do not take place often enough.

Benefits for LeadingAge Members

I came away from Bellagio with an expanded network of colleagues from a variety of countries. LeadingAge, the Center for Applied Research and the International Association of Homes and Services for the Ageing will continue collaborating with these experts to move our work forward.

I also came home with a renewed appreciation for how livable communities could help providers of aging services better support the older adults who live within and outside their care settings. LeadingAge members will be hearing more from us about these communities and how we can work together to create and sustain them.


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