State Director of AARP evaluates “aging in place” in Lynnhurst

Will Phillips, pictured at the 2015 Twin Cities Jazz Festival. Photo courtesy of AARP

Lynnhurst resident Will Phillips calls his neighborhood a “20-minute village.”

“When I think about where I live, I can walk to virtually everything I need in approximately 20 minutes, which is pretty incredible,” Phillips said.

The concept is important to Phillips in his role as state director of the AARP. He pointed to a senior livability index developed by AARP that can scrutinize neighborhoods down to the census block. Lynnhurst scores in the top third of the country for its access to parks, grocery stores and quality health care and the frequency of local transit.

“The neighborhood itself is fairly consistent with the city,” Phillips said. “It’s not a place that you just pass through, it’s a place where people want to be, with access to parks and trails and other amenities, including some of the conveniences that people need, such as grocery stores.”

In Minnesota, the demographic of residents age 65 and older is projected to grow 41 percent between 2010 and 2020, according to Minneapolis’ “Age Friendly Action Plan.” Minneapolis has a younger population than many other U.S. cities, according to the plan, but the proportion of older adults is projected to grow rapidly. Minneapolis already experienced a 9-percent increase in its 50-plus population between 2010 and 2015.

Philips said seniors and young people want the same things out of a neighborhood. Both say they want walkability, affordable housing that’s close to shops and more transportation choices that free them from cars.

Park access is particularly beneficial for seniors. Time spent in green spaces — and “blue” spaces, like lakes — motivates seniors to become more active and social, according to research conducted in Vancouver by Jessica Finlay. Blue spaces in particular help seniors feel reduced stress, Finlay found.

Phillips said another of Lynnhurst’s amenities is its high civic engagement.

“We know that as you age, those community connections and the opportunity to connect with your neighbors, to contribute to the health of your community … those are really important,” Phillips said. “Older adults really outstrip other segments of the population in terms of their rates of entrepreneurship, rates of civic engagement and volunteerism.”

The AARP index scores Lynnhurst in the bottom third of the country on a few other factors, however, including housing affordability, which the U.S. Census calculates at $1,764 per month or 25.6 percent of income.

Phillips said Lynnhurst’s older housing stock can also prove challenging for people as they age, as laundry machines are typically in the basement and a bathroom might be up a flight of stairs. Citywide, more than 80 percent of houses are split entry or multi-level.

Most Minneapolitans want to stay in their homes as they age, according to the city, and older adults are less likely to move after retirement than they were 30 years ago. But that starts to change in the mid-70s due to limited mobility, home upkeep and isolation. While remaining in a particular home can be challenging, seniors report they still want to stay in the community.

City officials are working to make that happen. The City Council adopted a plan to add senior housing in each ward of the city. The city now allows construction of accessory dwelling units or “granny flats.” The city also has a new goal to set aside at least $1 million for seniors in a program to retrofit and rehab homes.

“Minneapolis is really tackling this challenge,” Phillips said.

AARP’s livability tool is available at