Planners: Here's the Secret to Finding and Supporting Allies for Livable Communities

By Erin McAuliff

As planners and livable community advocates, we can always use help drumming up support for an important project or messaging proposed policies. While we know that engaging allies to assist can go a long way towards advancing these goals, more often than not we struggle to find these allusive supporters so ready to get involved and make a difference.

I'm here to let you in on a little secret: For planners interested in amplifying and focusing their livable communities efforts where it counts, look no further than the burgeoning older adult population.

By 2030, more than 70 million Americans will be 65 and older. At that time, older adults will comprise nearly one in five Americans. Our elder neighbors, colleagues, and friends are looking for opportunities to keep active and engaged in civic life and they are also invested in creating livable communities.  The vast majority of older adults – 87percent of adults age 65+ – want to stay in their current home and community as they age. In order to do so, they require communities that provide safe, walkable streets; age-friendly housing and transportation options; access to needed services; and opportunities for residents of all ages to participate in community life.

How do planners connect with these allies to advance specific efforts? I've asked a few experts to chime in:


One livable communities solution to housing affordability woes is adding an accessory dwelling, such as an addition to a garage, an entirely new structure, or a basement or attic apartment in the existing single-family house. This solution is also attracting the attention of many older adults. As Denise Pinkston, a housing expert and Partner at TMG Partners in San Francisco, explains, “Recent accessory dwelling rule changes in California have led to skyrocketing permit applications by owners who wish to add accessory dwellings – particularly older homeowners who no longer have children in the house.  Encouraging accessory dwellings creates tremendous opportunities for older adults living in too much house and allows them to share this resource with family and community members. In return, it combats loneliness and isolation and supports aging in place near support centers and services.”


According to the American Public Transportation Association (APTA), many transit agencies are “embracing the concept of mobility management, which is a strategic approach to service coordination and customer service…becoming a worldwide trend in the public transportation sector.” APTA expects that this trend will move transit agencies “away from their roles as fixed-route operators and toward collaboration with other transportation providers.” Naomi Armenta, Senior Associate at Nelson\Nygaard, an international transportation planning consultancy, agrees and emphasizes that older adults are undeniably invested in seeing this pan out.  “Transportation is a vital link to resources and supports for older adults and people with disabilities, many of whom cannot drive themselves and/or do not always have someone to ask for a ride. In addition to paratransit, a range of non-profits and private companies traditionally outside of the sphere of public transit have cropped up to support this population’s mobility. Partnership and collaboration between aging and transportation professionals is critical for implementing a mobility management approach that matches riders with the most efficient and attractive option for both the rider and provider.”

Built Environment and Open Spaces

Supportive built environments can strengthen individual relationships, ensure access to care, resources, and recreation, and reduce isolation across the lifespan. Matt Raimi, Principal of Raimi + Associates, is a leader in innovative planning solutions particularly in neighborhoods historically left out of the planning process.  Working with the community, his plans include an explicit focus on health, sustainable neighborhoods, and social equity. According to Raimi, planning and aging professionals are already working together to promote policies and programs that support demographically diverse populations both inside the home and within public space. "Although balancing diverse interests is always challenging, we have found that most people – regardless of age or background – support creating safe, walkable places. This includes not only sidewalks and crosswalks, but also promoting mixed use districts with shops, restaurants and housing.” In San Jose, the advocacy organization California Walks has worked with the Santa Clara County Department of Public Health and the Department of Aging and Adult Services to assess access to community centers and parks, encourage walking through the Walk San Jose loop project, and draft the recently published "Older Adult Transportation & Traffic Safety in Santa Clara County" report.

Interested in hearing more from these experts and starting to engage with new allies right away? Sign up for the second annual Summit for Livable Communities for All Ages, taking place in San Francisco on March 29, 2018 at the San Francisco Hilton - Union Square.

The fee for the three-hour summit is $50, but space is limited and will go quickly. To register, go to, then continue to “2018 Aging in America Conference – Thursday Only 2nd Annual Summit on Livable Communities March 29, 2017.” AICP members will earn 3 CM credits. 

Erin McAuliff is senior transportation and mobility planner at Marin Transit and is a member of the Marin Center For Independent Living Board of Directors.