The population of people 50 and older living in Minneapolis keeps going up — from 77,728 in 2000 to 97,918 in 2013.

Statistics like that have encouraged the city’s efforts to be more amenable to the needs of older folks; AARP recently designated Minneapolis as the first “age-friendly” community in Minnesota.

“If you look at the great work the city had been doing, it was a natural fit,” said Will Phillips, Minnesota’s AARP director. “We’re thrilled that Minneapolis has doubled down on its commitment to become more age-friendly.”

He cited the city’s “Minneapolis for a Lifetime” strategy, launched in 2012, which targets seniors, and the advisory committee on aging, which was restructured this past spring, as two examples of the city’s commitment.

Most of the main targets of the Minneapolis for a Lifetime strategic plan — such as housing, health and wellness, and transportation — closely parallel AARP’s eight “domains of livability.” The AARP designation process requires assessment of those domains and an action plan, something the city already has underway.

“It’s really about being very deliberate and aggressive about engaging and getting feedback from the community, in particular older residents,” said Phillips, “through both the planning and implementation process.”

Christina Kendrick, a senior community specialist for the city, has been meeting with community groups regularly for the last couple of years as part of the Minneapolis for a Lifetime plan. At a recent meeting, Kendrick updated a group of about 20 seniors at the UCare Skyway Senior Center on the plan’s progress and asked for feedback. The conversation included topics such as access to affordable food, transit, housing, respect for seniors and volunteerism.

After the meeting, some seniors, such as Karen Bellefuil, 77, of Minneapolis, expressed some doubts. “I just thought it was all puff, nothing concrete,” she said. Her husband, Glen, 82, described the language of the plan as “very flow-y and kind of hyperbolic,” adding, “What’s it really going to do? It sounded so airy.”

“It was all over the place,” said Julie Anderson, a retired senior who has lived downtown for 30 years.

Anderson personally already finds it easy to live where she does, citing factors like easy access to groceries and public transit. “I’ve lived downtown for a long time,” she said, “and it works for us. I’m very happy living downtown.”

However, she said, she’s concerned about housing, as she’s seen friends move to the suburbs because of lack of affordable housing. “I’ve always believed that the city is for all people to live in,” she said.

“I share that concern,” said Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges, “but part of what we are doing is looking at really innovative community planning models to incorporate the needs of all generations.” She pointed to last year’s passage of a zoning code amendment that allows accessory dwelling units (“granny flats”) as an example. Also, last year, she said, the city put more money in the Affordable Trust Fund specifically for senior housing, referencing a 2013 initiative to set aside 30 percent of the fund annually for senior rental housing financing, if applications meet that threshold.

“I have a goal of growth in Minneapolis,” said Hodges, “which is bringing more people here but also keeping people here as they age.”

Karen Bellefuil said she did appreciate hearing about the specific goal of developing one new senior housing project, with at least 35 units, per ward by 2025, something also outlined in a 2013 initiative. According to Andrea Brennan, the city’s director of housing policy and development, three senior housing developments, totaling 274 units, are newly completed or under construction.

“Seniors and older adults are an asset to the city of Minneapolis,” said Hodges. “It’s an ongoing and growing source of talent, wisdom, economic driver, stability, community experience, civic engagement. … It’s a huge asset for any community, and we want to make sure we’re serving them well.”

One of the requirements for the AARP designation is to publicly post the action plan. According to Kendrick, the city is working on a webpage devoted to the development and progress of the Minneapolis for a Lifetime strategy.

Phillips said the new AARP designation brings benefits such as assistance with assessment, opportunities to connect with other “age-friendly” communities, and access to the organization’s volunteer pool.

“The designation is not a certificate of accomplishment.” Phillips said, but rather, is about a community committed to “a continuous cycle of improvement.”

According to Phillips, the AARP program launched in 2012, and more than 60 communities in the country are now designated as “age-friendly” communities.

 

Liz Ann Rolfsmeier is a freelance writer in Minneapolis.