Small town placemaking done right | News, Sports, Jobs


It’s summer in Avoca. After work, you go to the weekly farmer’s market to meet friends and buy fresh tomatoes. As you walk down North Elm Street you see a band gather outside the library as a family tries to play the Beatles classic “Here Comes the Sun” using the strategically placed permanent exterior drums and xylophone. The notes are shifted, but it’s perfect.

Avoca leaders understand the important role that placemaking plays in creating livable, age-friendly communities. In 2018, the public library team successfully applied for an AARP Challenge grant to build an outdoor musical garden in the heart of downtown Avoca.

“Music unites all generations, and these instruments are capable of playing music without you having to be trained in it”, said Serena Riesgaard, director of Avoca’s public library. “It just creates a fun musical environment.”

The term “habitable communities” is quite broad and can be subjective, but for us at AARP, it boils down to this: livable communities are those that use what makes their community special to bring people together and improve the quality of life for residents of all ages. . Avoca’s library is right downtown where the Farmers’ Market is held, so using the location to create a fun gathering space is the right approach to creating a unique, livable community.

Avoca is not alone. The Keokuk Parks Foundation used a Challenge grant to help transform crumbling tennis courts into destination pickleball courts. Today, the courts are often packed with pickleball players from across the region.

A Challenge to Manning grant was used to install decorative lighting along Main Street to increase the use of public spaces along a three-block corridor.

In Stanton, the Stanton Community Foundation has installed mile markers along its beautiful Greenbelt Trail to honor Stanton’s Swedish history.

Small towns in Iowa are working hard to make their communities age-friendly, which we define as accessible to young and old, or “8 to 80! » as we often say. When a city sets up a bench next to a pond, who sits on that bench? The children are seated next to their parents. Parents of newborns are sitting with a stroller nearby. Grandparents are seated watching their grandchildren. This bench is age-friendly, and while installing it may seem like a small step, visionary leaders are taking many of these steps to improve livability and make their cities prosper.

These types of place-making measures work best when they come from the grassroots community rather than a top-down approach. Local leaders can start with a broad vision, then bring residents to the table to get the creative juices flowing. Then, once you have an idea or two, don’t forget to apply for an AARP Challenge grant ( Applications for 2022 are due March 22. Good creation of places.

Brad Anderson is the state director for AARP Iowa.

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