CAC helping five Indiana cities become more livable

 

Pg19Think about where you live, and ask yourself a few questions.
—Is it somewhere you could live for a long time?
—What if you couldn’t drive? Is public transportation available? Is your neighborhood walkable—or rollable—with connections to employment, education, shopping, and recreation?
—Do you feel safe in your community? Is a range of safe, accessible, and affordable housing options available?

—Are there life-enriching recreational and cultural activities?
—Can you easily make use of community services such as medical facilities and social services?
—And are there inviting, local places to gather and meet friends for coffee, a meal, or a walk?

Finally, if the answer to each question is not a resounding “Yes!” would you get involved to create change?

UIndy’s Dr. Sharon Baggett did. The associate professor of gerontology at the Center for Aging & Community has co-led an effort to help older adults and those with disabilities in five Indiana cities—Shelbyville, Crawfordsville, Huntington, Richmond, and Bedford—learn to advocate for changes in their communities to ensure they are places where people can live, fully engaged, for their entire lives.

Training advocates

Baggett and Jennie Todd, a research associate at the Indiana Institute on Disability and Community at Indiana University, created a training program, Advocates for Livable Communities Training: Working Together for Change. With funding from the Indiana Governor’s Council for People with Disabilities, the pair developed a five-day workshop during which participants learned about the latest in thinking about planning for livability, assessed the needs of their own communities, and learned how to speak effectively with community leaders to advocate for those needs to be met. The program was piloted in 2013 in Shelbyville, Crawfordsville, and Huntington, because the communities had already expressed some interest in achieving status as livable communities for all ages and abilities. Two of the communities selected had been recipients of the Indiana Office of Community and Rural Affairs “Stellar Communities” grant. To recruit participants, Baggett said they talked to aging-services providers, senior centers, disability-service providers, independent living organizations, foundations, and other community leaders. The recruitment efforts were successful, if a bit surprising.

“We imagined that we would be working with older adults and people with physical disabilities,” she says, “but many of our advocates came from people with intellectual disabilities and their family members. We were happily surprised by their level of engagement in the process. “And, in Bedford, adding young mothers of children with special needs to the training brought a different and needed perspective to the concept of lifelong planning for livability.” What makes a community good for older adults or people with disabilities, Baggett says, makes a community good for everyone. Older people and persons with disabilities may not have a history of working together on common issues, but the approach of “advocacy for all” was a success. “After the first day of the training, there was no ‘us’ or ‘them.’ Everyone was working together,” she said. She also pointed out that the training was not about finding fault with the cities or their administrations but about exploring how to build on what was already there. In fact, at the end of the training, advocates invited community leaders—mayors, council members, and city planners—to a dialogue about needs and potential solutions, including how the advocates could be of service to local leaders working toward community livability.

Seeing success

In Shelbyville, the result of that dialogue was that the city planner formed an ongoing committee to review and address accessibility and livability issues in that community. In Crawfordsville, initiatives that advocacy training members have been asked to participate in include planning and implementation of a downtown revitalization planning grant, an Indiana Department of Transportation effort to complete a missing section of the Sugar Creek Trail, and a bicycle and pedestrian master planning grant. “Various components of what Sharon taught us are injected into all of these efforts. The most valuable thing she taught us was framing,” says participant Gail Pebworth. “The language you use, how you make your point, makes a huge difference.”
Pebworth encouraged other cities that want to create livable communities to do two things: “Build a coalition; get other people to work with you. “And get Sharon Baggett and the University of Indianapolis to come in to educate, unite, and engage your people.” On the heels of successful training in the pilot communities, Baggett and Todd offered the training to citizen advocates in Richmond and Bedford and will offer the training to two more communities in 2016. In all of the communities, Baggett was rewarded by a similar outcome. “Seeing these trainees empowered as to advocate for themselves, their neighbors, and their communities was a highlight,” she said.