The Western Kentucky University Center for Gerontology, the AARP and the city of Bowling Green are working together to collect opinions on how Bowling Green can become a more age-friendly city.

Last year, Bowling Green became the first city in the southern U.S. to join the World Health Organization’s Global Network of Age-Friendly Cities and Communities, said Karen Foley, neighborhood services coordinator for the city.

Since then, trained facilitators have been hosting “Ask Bowling Green” Community Conversations and are seeking more groups to participate, she said.

The conversations are open-ended discussions that usually include six to eight people and a facilitator and include questions about what kind of communities people want to live in and what needs to happen in order to create those communities, Foley said.

Being a part of the age-friendly city network is a five-year commitment to the WHO that Bowling Green will explore ways for the city to be more age-friendly, said Dana Bradley, director for the Center for Gerontology at WKU.

Being age-friendly is a good thing for the city, she said. It ultimately means creating a more livable community for everyone and can be good for business development.

“It’s already put us on the map, internationally, with the WHO,” she said.

Being classified as part of the network means Bowling Green can draw on ideas from cities all over the world to improve the city, Foley said.

The connection that WKU has to the program is also beneficial for the school because it seeks to be a university with international reach, she said.

The world’s population is getting older. By 2050, 22 percent of the global population is expected to be 60 or older, compared to 11 percent in 2006, according to the WHO guide to global age-friendly cities. In North America, that percentage is expected to be 24 percent in 2050.

The city used its 50 over Fifty Citizens Academy, which taught seniors about how Bowling Green government operates, as an opportunity to host some of those conversations, but the groups don’t need to be made up of older individuals, Foley said. The conversations can be organized for any type of group including women’s groups, coffee groups or book clubs.

Part of being an age-friendly city is involving older adults in the planning process, Bradley said.

It’s important to get the opinion of citizens because what they think is important and what a university professor thinks is important aren’t necessarily the same, she said.

So far, there have been about 10 community conversations and Bradley would like to do 50 before moving on to the next phase of the project.

— Those interested in scheduling a conversation can do so by contacting Karen Foley at karen.foley@bgky.org or 393-3674 or email the WKU Center of Gerontology at aging@wku.edu. For more information, see the WKU Aging Facebook page at facebook.com/wkuaging.

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