BANGOR, Maine — Bangor provides many resources to make the city safe and attractive to its seniors and other residents, but there is plenty of room for improvement. The results of a city-wide “livability” survey were released on Wednesday in a preliminary report, closing the first phase of a project to improve Bangor’s living environment for residents of all ages.
About 15 members of the Bangor Livable Communities Committee gathered in the City Council chambers to review the report, which was presented by staff from the University of Maine Center on Aging. The committee has been working for about 18 months, with about $8,000 in funding from the senior advocacy group AARP, to lay the groundwork for making the city safer, more navigable and more attractive for everyone who lives here.
The report reflects the work of seven focus groups that have met over the past year, drawing participation from a broad demographic of city residents. The topic areas discussed by the groups were provided by AARP’s “Age-Friendly Communities” initiative and included: outdoor spaces and buildings, transportation, housing, social participation, respect and social inclusion, civic participation and employment, communication and information, and community and health services.
All topic areas identified both strengths and challenges. Under transportation, for example, the focus groups identified as an asset the existence of the public bus system that serves the Bangor area. But many people do not understand how to use the bus system or where to find information about routes and hours of operation. In addition, the bus service hours are limited, making it hard to use in the evening or on weekends. In the housing section, the availability of free or inexpensive home repair services for low-income homeowners was offset by an overall lack of affordable housing options.
The permanent closing earlier this year of Bangor’s Hammond Street Senior Center, because of financial unsustainability, was identified as a major loss for both social participation and social inclusion. Focus group members identified the opening of a new, sustainable senior center as a high priority. In the communications and information report, groups said local print and broadcast media do a good job of alerting seniors and other residents to services and events, but they called for a universal clearing house of some sort for all information. While the report did not specify a way to make the information easily available to everyone, one committee member suggested using public libraries as a bricks-and-mortar solution.
In a discussion of the report, Bangor resident John Friedman, 71, said Bangor should construct an all-purpose senior center that provides fitness options such as an indoor track and pool, a health care component, social and crafting activities, a teaching kitchen and other resources specifically geared to the needs of seniors.
“You’re talking about it in snippets,” he said. “Have one place for all of it.”
Friedman said the existence of such an “all things senior” center would attract retirees to Bangor.
Other suggestions including building a network of in-town bike lanes and trails to encourage healthy physical activity and cut down on car traffic; developing a city-issued “seal of approval” for business, venues and events that ensure accessibility for people with mobility limitations; and increasing the availability of comprehensive adult day services for people with dementia and other disabilities.
City Councilor Sean Faircloth, who spearheaded the multigenerational approach to improving the city’s age-friendliness, said that it’s important to devise strategies for meeting the needs of seniors without giving short shrift to younger residents. The city has experienced a net loss in population in recent years, he said, and needs to attract and retain younger people in order to ensure economic and cultural vibrancy going forward.
Faircloth has championed the creation of a multicultural center in Bangor to help young immigrants feel more welcome and enhance the local workforce. He also envisions a multicultural and cross-generation network of volunteers to help support frail elders and disabled residents in their homes and the community.
Committee Chair Patty Hamilton, director of Bangor Public Health and Community Services, noted that many interventions that would help Bangor seniors would benefit people of all ages, including improved sidewalks, enhanced safety in some neighborhoods and better access to transportation and health services.
“These things will make our city more inviting to all ages and generations,” she said.
Len Kaye, director of the UMaine Center on Aging, said a more detailed report will be released before the end of this month. That report will include information from a 2015 survey of about 450 Bangor residents that was performed to help the city qualify for AARP’s “age-friendly” status and funding. The final report also will reflect the results of another survey that will soon be sent to members of the Bangor Area Chamber of Commerce, asking the business community how it can contribute to the citywide effort.
The committee will reconvene in January to begin identifying specific proposals.