How livable is Ferndale?
A couple Sundays ago, I asked myself that question while reading an article in the American Planning Association journal about the AARP Livability Index. Sipping my coffee with my journal in one hand and my laptop next to me on the couch, I was very curious about the Index measures and what information could enlighten me about what makes a community livable according to AARP.
AARP’s definition of livability means a community is:
“convenient to travel by foot, bike, or transit to access nearby stores, parks, and other amenities. For others, affordable housing or open space is more important. Because people look for different things when searching for a satisfying place to call home, measuring the livability of cities and towns across the United States can be challenging. This Index gives higher scores to communities with diverse features that help people of all ages, incomes, and abilities—not just older Americans. Livability is about realizing values that are central to healthy communities: independence, choice, and security. Livable communities help residents thrive, and when residents thrive, communities prosper.”
The AARP Livability Index measures across 40 metrics and 20 policies, many of them regional and state focused, including:
- Housing (affordability and access)
- Neighborhoods (access to life, work and play)
- Transportation (safe and convenient options)
- Environment (clean air and water)
- Health (prevention, access and quality)
- Engagement (civic and social involvement)
- Opportunity (inclusion and involvement)
The AARP Livability Index scores Ferndale at 51 out of 100.
Only 51 out of 100? Ferndale is more livable than this score suggests, I said to myself.
By what criteria do they measure a community? What does the Livability Index tell us about Ferndale or communities within the Metro Detroit region? What can we learn from evaluations and policy assessments like these?
As a local elected community leader, it is one of my responsibilities to ensure the community is strategically adapting to change and progressively moving forward. It means making Ferndale a more equitable community that meets the needs of people of regardless of age, income, physical ability, and race–all key tenants of the AARP Livability Index.
Getting Older and Less Young
AARP states by 2040 one in five adults in the US will be 65 or older. Locally, SEMCOG predicts Ferndale’s population aged 65 and older will grow by approximately 101% by the year 2040. Conversely, Ferndale’s population aged 25-59 will decrease by 16% by 2040, the young professionals and families demographic.
Essentially, Ferndale needs to strategically address these demographic shifts now. According to AARP’s Livability Index, Ferndale is well on its way, but has more to do.
How does Ferndale measure up with the Livability Index?
The Livability Index is government and policy focused and uses national and county data sources to set its evaluation criteria that drive scoring. Many categories use state or national data sources, and the only way to increase a community score in some categories necessitates the state or region to take action.
For example, Ferndale scored lowest in the Environment (clean air and water), Housing (affordable and access), Engagement (civic and social involvement) and the lowest score was Opportunity (inclusion and involvement).
Ferndale’s lower Environmental score is based on regional air quality, drinking water quality and near-roadway pollution (highways and wide streets like 8 Mile road). Increasing Ferndale’s score in this area necessitates a regional approach to improving air quality, and AARP says our score will increase if the State of Michigan passes a state policy that supports energy-efficient buildings, facilities, and appliances. Not sure that will happen anytime soon.
Housing is an interesting category, mostly driven by state wide policy changes like manufactured housing protections, foreclosure prevention and protection, and housing affordability. There are actions that local municipalities can take, and one area Ferndale definitely needs to concentrate on increasing: the availability of multi-family housing. According to AARP, livable communities offer housing for any situation, which is why the Index measures the percentage of housing units in a community that are not single-family, detached homes.
The lowest scoring area, Opportunity, has metrics on income inequality, jobs per worker and age diversity (multi-generational communities) and most policy fixes are statewide like a statewide minimum wage increase, state expansion of the family medical leave act, and a local, regional and state policy supporting AARP Network of Age-Friendly Communities.
Ferndale Making Progress
In my opinion, what the public more easily relates to and the local government have more control to address is AARP’s summary on what amenities older adults want in their community:
- Bus Stops: Ferndale has 59 bus stops, 48 SMART stops and 11 DDOT stops. Here’s a nice map with all the bus stop locations in Ferndale (map provided by SEMCOG). Although Ferndale has many bus stops, the current regional public transportation system lacks bus reliability, accessibility and frequency to get where people need to go.
- Grocery Stores: Four grocery stores are located Downtown Ferndale and five other stores accessible in nearby communities: Meijer in Detroit, Kroger in Hazel Park, Hollywood Market in Royal Oak and Westborn Market in Berkley, all within a 4-5 mile radius.
- Parks: Ferndale has good parks but many parks need improvements to make them more enjoyable and accessible for kids and older adults. In May 2015, voters approved investing in the parks by renewing the streets and park bond.
- Pharmacy/Drug Stores: Four pharmacies are located in Ferndale.
- Hospitals: Beaumont Hospital is 5.2 miles from downtown Ferndale. Henry Ford Health System is 8.8 miles and the Detroit Medical Center is approximately 11 miles. Great access to healthcare facilities!
Now let’s take a look at AARP’s summary of what older adults want in their communities and compare to Ferndale.
Increased Police Presence: Ferndale’s crime rates are the lowest since 1960, with crimes in every category down 50% since 2009. (Mayor Coulter State of City Address. April 9. 2015). Community policing is essential to safety and the police department is focused on making stronger connections to the community.
Improved Schools: The Ferndale Public Schools District completed its Strategic Plan in 2014 with a focus on improving quality and equality of education for all students. Kids can get a great education in Ferndale and with the school restructuring underway, achieving the vision in the strategic plan will ultimately improve the schools. This is a work in progress.
Pedestrian Friendly Community: Ferndale has a plan to “right size” all its streets. In 2014, the city completed a community supported non-motorized plan called Ferndale Moves to improve safety for people who walk and ride bikes. I like to think we are dignifying our streets and sidewalks for the pedestrian.
Provide Transportation for Older Adults and People with Disabilities. Ferndale provides alternative transportation through the SMART Transportation program though more investment is needed in regional public transportation.
Build or Upgrade Public Parks: I covered this above. Major message: don’t neglect your municipal parks because great parks attract and retain families and improve neighborhoods. Parks are essential to a city’s economic development strategy.
Age Friendly Ferndale
Overall, Ferndale is focused on improving its livability with better streets, parks, and transportation, but more work needs to be done to plan for the future, particularly on housing and inclusion.
More attention is needed to diversity Ferndale’s housing choices (multi-family, condos, townhouses and lofts) that enable people to age-in place and to ensure people of all incomes can live in our community. I believe we should consider programs to help retrofit older homes to help residents age-in-place. We also need to inquire further about Engagement and Opportunity for inclusion and involvement on a more local level. According to AARP’s summary what amenities older citizens want, Ferndale is making progress and has a solid foundation to become even more age friendly.
Does creating an age friendly community resonate with you?
I offer the following recommendations how you can get involved and take action at the local level:
- Share your ideas how the city can become more age friendly with city council, city staff and your volunteer residents representing a board or commission.
- Participate in the City’s Master Land Use Plan update (launching this summer) (sounds really boring, but updating a master plan is a critical exercise to charting out Ferndale’s path forward for the next 5-10 years)
- Share what type of housing would make Ferndale more age-friendly and livable.
When I was running for re-election in 2013, I spoke with an older resident about the future of Ferndale. They expressed to me that “you only work on transportation issues”. That’s their perception of me–only work on transportation. I see it as increasing Ferndale’s livability, increasing sustainable mobility, building a healthier community and a more age-friendly community. Focusing on streets and transportation–or the backbones of a community–is about access, equity and inclusion, which is strategic in my book.