Working locally to make Texas more livable for all ages

“Disrupt aging!” It’s what AARP CEO Jo Ann Jenkins proposes as a fresh attitude about getting older. And she’s right. We all deserve to feel good about where we are in life and to embrace our own aging.

Here in Texas, as we look ahead to a new year with great anticipation, I see incredible opportunities to disrupt aging by developing our cities and towns into even greater places to live our best lives.

As a matter of fact, the staff and volunteers of AARP will work hard again in 2015 at the local level to help Texas cities become more age friendly. The AARP Network of Age-Friendly Communities has grown to include Austin, Brownsville, Dallas, Fort Worth, Houston and San Antonio. And with those cherished partnerships in place, we’re committed to continuing our work with mayors, city council members and a vast array of community leaders.

Texas cities and towns face big hurdles, and we take those challenges seriously. AARP is an organization of real possibilities because we believe that no one’s opportunities should be limited by their age, and that experience has value. That’s where the Network of Age-Friendly Communities comes into play. It’s meant to help towns and cities become great places by adopting features like walkable streets, better housing and transportation options, as well as key services, all of which helps to ensure that more people participate in a full array of community activities.

The network is an affiliate of the World Health Organization’s Age-Friendly Cities and Communities Program, an international effort launched in 2006 to help cities prepare for rapid population aging and the parallel trend of urbanization. Communities in more than 20 nations are participating. But I’m especially proud of the work being done in a Texas city close to my heart. That’s Brownsville, along the nation’s fast-growing southern border.

I raised my own children and taught school for 29 years in this city of close-knit families in the Rio Grande Valley. It’s burgeoned now to a population of 180,000. And while Brownsville has a respected history, I see an even brighter future. Economic opportunities are on the horizon. For one, a private industry space-launch facility is being planned here.

But it may be what has already launched in Brownsville that is most spectacular. That is, a great new attitude has sprung forth among city officials and community activists to work hand-in-glove toward positive social change.

To create a livable city that promotes health for people of all ages, Brownsville has created a sidewalk ordinance, as well as new bike and walking paths that are integrated with the city’s existing metro system. These measures are starting to make Brownsville more accessible to all those who do not drive.

Meanwhile, talks are underway about ways to improve the city’s parks and other public places, with a goal of encouraging more people to walk and enjoy nature. A farmers market has sprouted up. And quite popular now are events, such as “CycloBia,” during which portions of Brownsville’s downtown are closed to car traffic to promote walking and biking.

With all these efforts, more recognition has been coming to Brownsville, and the people here are displaying a new sense of civic pride. Just after joining the Network of Age-Friendly Communities, Brownsville was named an “All-America City” by the National Civic League, which grants the distinction only to cities that succeed in making a community a better place to live. Brownsville also has taken in a “Culture of Health” award from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

As is already occurring in Brownsville, I foresee aging being disrupted in cities all over Texas. The work of AARP Texas volunteers will continue in order to give residents more opportunities to live rewarding, productive and safe lives in age-friendly communities.

Ollie Besteiro, AARP Texas

Olivia “Ollie” Besteiro is the AARP Texas state president, a volunteer position.