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Grow old with Talent

City leaders want to make Talent a place where residents can remain comfortably for their entire lives.

Talent City Council is sending a letter to AARP expressing interest in joining its Age-Friendly Communities program. The multiyear process includes creation of an action plan, then implementation and evaluation in the third to fifth years.

The letter is "the city’s commitment to join the network and work on becoming age-friendly," said Bandana Shrestha, community engagement director for AARP Oregon. "The designation doesn’t mean the city is already there, it means they are committed to do it."

AARP started the initiative nationally in 2012. So far, four cities and Multnomah County are members in Oregon. AARP created the network to help community leaders and individuals learn about their towns and devise what future people want and need.

Stakeholders can then use the AARP Livability Index to take steps to address gaps and improve livability. AARP created the index after determining there was nothing comprehensive to assess community livability.

Shrestha and local AARP volunteer Liz James found examples of efforts already in place in Talent that contribute to making the community a place where people want to live: the annual Harvest Festival, a planned bike and walking path along Highway 99, presence of the Rogue Climate organization and Talent Maker City.

“This is a good fit for our community wanting to design around different types of populations, including the aging population,” said Mayor Darby Ayers-Flood. “We have some subsequent meetings lined up so that we can learn more, so that we can learn how to embed this type of planning into our community.”

“There are local things happening here that fit in very well,” Shrestha told the council at a recent meeting. With an aging population and people staying healthy and active longer, AARP hopes to encourage communities to adapt to the changes.

AARP’s Livability Index scores Talent overall at 56 on a 100-point scale. Scores for other nearby cities include Ashland, 57, Jacksonville, 49, Medford, 53, and Phoenix, 55. The index looks at livability based on data from more than 50 sources, including census, environmental, housing and development agencies.

Talent’s high scores included a 67 in the engagement category and a 61 in opportunity. Other category scores are housing, 53; neighborhood, 48; transportation, 52; environment, 57; and health, 56.

In the engagement category, scores are derived from such things as internet access, engagement through voter rates, opportunities for civic involvement and social options. The housing category criteria include affordability and access, transportation considers safety and convenience, and health looks at prevention, access and quality.

“It’s always comparative, not absolute,” Shrestha said of the scores. Indexes for other cities in Oregon have been in place for only two years, so it’s too soon to determine whether scores are going up with time, she said. Efforts in Talent wouldn’t be aimed at city government alone, but would look at ways to connect with other sectors of town, she said.

While Talent is the first city to move forward toward the designation locally, talks have been held with individuals and groups in Ashland, Central Point and Medford, Shrestha said.

“It’s great we have a really large organization, but what does that mean for a community?” James said.

“Talent’s doing an impressive job. They look to replicate models that work, models that can be customized for their community,” she said. “The key message is we are here and working along with this community where efforts are being made around a livable, age-friendly community.”

Reach Ashland freelance writer Tony Boom at tboomwriter@gmail.com.

Photo courtesy cityoftalent.org