Grant to fund UM summit on ‘smart’ growth

Posted April 15, 2009, at 7:20 p.m.

ORONO, Maine — A $100,000 grant from the Environmental Protection Agency will help the University of Maine’s Center on Aging hold a statewide summit on improving the quality of life of older residents through community planning and strategies that support active aging and smart growth.

The grant, awarded as a 2009 Building Healthy Communities for Active Aging Training project, was announced earlier this week. Portland State University in Oregon was the only other university recognized through the EPA’s Aging Initiative.

The Center on Aging plans to use the funds to hold the summit at the end of the summer after which attendees over age 50 will be organized into a Senior Environmental Leadership Corps, said Len Kaye, who is the Center on Aging director and a UMaine professor.

Kaye said the summit will be the first of its kind in the nation considering its focus on leadership and smart growth, which Kaye said is a concept in which quality of life is maximized through thoughtful physical development of a community.

“It’s all about maximizing space so it is accessible to folks regardless of physical ability and capacity,” Kaye said. “It’s about maximizing access to recreation facilities, walking trails, parks. The elderly frequently become vulnerable when we think about how communities might be developed and planned.”

The center is planning to find 150 to 200 volunteer residents from service-center towns and cities all over the state to meet at the Point Lookout facility in Northport. The conference will last two days, during which attendees will learn about smart growth principles and strategies for being effective leaders in their communities.

After the conference, Kaye said, attendees are expected to take their knowledge back to their municipalities. The center will provide them with support, materials and information once they’ve returned home.

“We want to send folks back to their communities to, we hope, make a difference,” he said.

The Center on Aging will collaborate with a number of entities, including Grow Smart Maine, the Portland-based New England Environmental Finance Center, the Maine EPA, the State Planning Office, and WBRC Architects and Engineers, which has offices in Bangor and Portland.

“We’re going to bring in top-notch folks from partner organizations throughout state,” Kaye said. “It is amazing how many organizations are working with us on this.”

For more information, contact Center on Aging Project Coordinator Jennifer Crittenden at 262-7922.

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