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PSU and Partners Work Toward a More Age-Friendly Portland and Multnomah County
PSU and Partners Work Toward a More Age-Friendly Portland and Multnomah County

Age-Friendly Research at PSU

PSU’s Institute on Aging (IOA) began a partnership with the World Health Organization (WHO) in 2006, when the IOA was invited to collaborate with the WHO in its Global Age-Friendly Cities project, aimed at helping cities prepare for rapid population aging and the parallel trend of urbanization.  Portland was the only U.S. city among the 33 cities in this project, which involved gathering data through focus groups with older adults, caregivers of frail elders, and representatives of the public, business, and non-profit service sectors concerning age-friendly features and barriers in the city and suggestions for improvements.

The study examined eight domains, including: housing; transportation; outdoor spaces and buildings; employment and civic engagement; respect and social inclusion; social participation; health and community services; and communication and information. The outcome of the WHO’s project was a global guide that could be used by cities around the world to become better places to live for people of all ages and abilities, particularly older adults. 

The Age-Friendly Portland and Multnomah County Initiatives

Following the completion of its multi-city research project and guide, the WHO created the WHO Global Network of Age-Friendly Cities. In 2011, Portland was one of nine cities from around the world selected as pioneer members of this network. IOA Director, Dr. Margaret Neal, explained an important misconception of joining the Network: “Membership does not mean that the community is currently age friendly; rather, it means that the community’s elected leadership has committed to actively work toward making the community a great place for people of all ages.” Network members pledge to conduct a baseline assessment of their community’s age friendliness (which Portland had already completed), create an action plan for enhancing the community’s age friendliness, implement the action plan, monitor progress, and make refinements. In 2014, Multnomah County also joined the Network. Today, 380 cities and communities and 11 affiliated programs in 37 different countries are members of the WHO Network; AARP, one of the 11 affiliated programs, coordinates the U.S. Network of Age-Friendly Communities.

An Advisory Council guides the Portland and Multnomah County age-friendly initiatives, with IOA serving as the “backbone” organization of the efforts, coordinated by Dr. Neal and Dr. Alan DeLaTorre, who has worked on the project since its beginning (first as a student, now as research faculty). Comprising the Advisory Council are numerous community partners, including representatives from higher education, business, the nonprofit/voluntary sector, the public sector, liaisons to elected officials, and older community members. To help with implementation of the Action Plans for the City and County, five volunteer committees, each focused on a specific domain, are working to increase Portland and Multnomah County's age friendliness.

The Benefits of Age-Friendly Partnerships

The many established relationships between the university and community and government entities are central to the success of these age-friendly initiatives. In particular, IOA's partnership with the City of Portland’s Bureau of Planning and Sustainability (BPS) has been crucial in the formation of visionary and long-ranging policy proposals. Examples of outcomes include age-friendly policies now embedded in the Portland Plan, the 2035 Comprehensive Plan, and the Residential Infill Project. The Advisory Council has also provided expert written and oral testimony to inform various public processes (e.g., funding and policy decisions, equity approaches). Additionally, Advisory Council members have engaged with BPS staff to advise PSU students in the Master of Urban and Regional Planning program on their final workshop project focused on moving the city toward becoming more age friendly. Other partnerships with BPS have continued to evolve, from designing inclusive pubic participation processes and infrastructure, to informing the Bureau of best practices for zoning code development.