"Advocates for Livable Communities: Working together for Change" training began Tuesday in the Whitlock Hall of St. John's Episcopal Church. Nearly 20 Montgomery County residents participated in the first session under the direction of Professors Sharon Baggett of University of Indianapolis and Jennie Todd of Indiana University.

Crawfordsville/Montgomery County was one of two communities in Indiana chosen as pilot sites for this training which will include five separate seven hour sessions Oct.1, Oct. 2, Oct. 15, Oct. 16, and Oct. 30.

What is a Livable Community? The training workbook identified a convergence of issues in the past few decades leading to the rise in advocacy to make communities better places to live, work and play.

• The population is getting older, and many of those aging will experience greater disability.

• Design of communities forced people to drive their cars to meet daily needs.

• Rising costs of fuel and crowded freeways, as well as concerns for environment have led people to ask why we do not have better public transportation?

• Zoning laws and tax incentives separated residential areas from business and service areas.

Older cities experienced decline in the last decades of last century.

• Rural areas and small towns also declined in past decades, leaving many small towns with an

aging population. But small towns also possessed, at one time, many features of livability.

• Rising rates of obesity among children and adults led health advocates to look at how our communities are built and role the built environment plays in whether people get enough exercise in daily life.

The core components of a community livable for all are: education, employment & civic engagement, mobility, recreational opportunities, social & cultural opportunities, housing and health and support services.

Philip B. Stafford, Director of the Center on Aging and Community at Indiana University, presented "Changing the Way We Advocate: From Individual to Community." He suggested we should look at community through a different lens - How can people get together?

It is important to have gathering spots with age friendly benches. Stafford displayed pictures of benches in a variety of communities. Design of the benches and location are so important. Benches that are too low, backless or have no arm rests are not conducive for people to use, so thought into good design is essential. Then location of benches where people can see each other and talk rather than facing out to parking lot or street makes a difference. Giving thought into design and provide benches which encourage opportunities to socialize can make an area attractive.

Many people desire to "stay put" with a goal to manage at home as long as they can. People can help each other. While advocating for selves is important, it is only one-half of the battle. Livable Community philosophy is moving from self-advocacy to group & community advocacy.

Professor Baggett discussed the value of assessment. "Doing an assessment provides you a way to consider what changes you would like to see in your community and why." An assessment can help identify what is good, what are the challenges, and what changes may be needed. Identifying community leaders and organizations is an important step in assessing the community. Then developing a coalition of residents of all ages and abilities to participate in the assessment can be very helpful. There are a number of tools available to assist with assessment.

Mobility, Housing, Health & Support Services, Recreation, Employment, Education & Civic Engagement will be discussed in upcoming sessions.