Committed To Becoming More Age-Friendly
Champaign-Urbana United States of America
Champaign and Urbana are twin cities with a combined population of about 127,000 located in east central Illinois. The area is home to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, which has close to 45,000 students and is highly ranked in engineering, agriculture, computer science, and many other fields. The University of Illinois has among the highest number of international students for a public university which brings great diversity and cultural exchange to the community. Champaign-Urbana is well-known for its progressive, micro-urban feel and its excellent neighborhoods, schools, and parks. It features three vibrant downtown areas, with dozens of locally-owned restaurants, nightclubs, shops, and boutiques. Champaign-Urbana appears on many top-ten lists for its tech opportunities, local culture, and progressive smart city policies. It sits within the highly productive agricultural region of Champaign County, which has some of the best soils in world. Champaign-Urbana is well connected to other cities with daily flights to Chicago and Dallas, and frequent train and bus service to Chicago.
Both Champaign and Urbana strive to provide a range of services and resources for older residents through aspirational goals set forth in comprehensive plans, transportation plans, City Council goals, and other relevant studies.1 Relevant policies include provision of affordable housing and community services, development of “complete neighborhoods” (i.e., providing daily needs within a mixed-use neighborhood area), and multi-modal transportation.
Specific programs promoting services and housing for older residents are detailed in a Consolidated Plan (2015¬2019), which is prepared pursuant to the U.S. Housing and Urban Development requirements for a funding consortium composed of the two cities along with Champaign County.2 The goals of this plan are to improve the quality of life in Champaign County, particularly for low-income, homeless, elderly, and/or special needs individuals and families. The inclusion of elderly individuals in this countywide plan dovetails nicely with our Age-Friendly effort. Programmatic county goals and funds are also set forth each year in Annual Action Plans. Programs of service to older adults in both communities, particularly those wishing to “age in place” in lower-income neighborhoods, include senior repair grants for emergency home repairs, access grants to promote accessibility at the home, and whole-house rehabilitation grants. Senior pick-ups for regular neighborhood clean¬ups are also offered in targeted areas within the City of Urbana.
The City of Champaign Neighborhood Services Department provides information, administers funding, and monitors programs that directly contribute to the health of neighborhoods throughout the City of Champaign. The Department’s Neighborhood Coordination division is charged with the organization and support of neighborhood groups, while the Neighborhood Programs division monitors and disseminates funding to rehabilitate housing and support local social services. The Department acts under the guidance of the Neighborhood Wellness Action Plan, which coordinates City services across department boundaries to address public safety, housing, infrastructure, and civic involvement issues at a neighborhood level. Programs such as the Full Home Improvement Program, the Minor Home Repair Program, and the Home Accessibility Retrofit Program offer special eligibility criteria for economically disadvantaged persons aged 62 years or older.
On the community side, extensive services for older adults are provided by Family Service of Champaign County3, which offers a senior resource center, homecare services, Meals on Wheels, protective services, senior counseling, caregiver support, transportation services, and a hotline. Family Service also runs a very popular Retired and Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP), which promotes community engagement through volunteering for older adults. Additional services are provided by the Eastern Illinois Area Agency on Aging4, including service referrals and an on-line resource guide. ECIAAA also supports the Land of Lincoln Legal Assistance Foundation which provides some free legal (civil) services for seniors. Champaign County Regional Planning Commission5 also provides senior services through their Senior Services Program. Local providers coordinate their efforts through self-organized groups, the Senior Task Force and Champaign County Committee on Aging, both which meet monthly. Faith in Action, an outreach program of Presence Covenant Medical Center provides assistance to seniors with long-term health needs and their caregivers in a variety of forms. All services are provided by volunteers and include transportation to medical appointments, friendly home and telephone visits, minor home repairs, assistance with shopping and errands, “Chore Days” (yard clean up and household chores), special projects throughout the year, Senior Health Insurance (SHIP) counseling, health education and screenings, and exercise classes.
There are a number of housing and health care options for older adults in Urbana-Champaign, including independent living, affordable housing, public housing, supportive housing, assisted living, skilled nursing, memory care, and adult day care. Clark-Lindsey Village is a full-spectrum continuing care retirement community which offers a number of community outreach programs and will soon be opening a wellness center and therapy pool, which will be available to its residents with options for community dwelling older adults to purchase memberships. The community is served by three major health care centers, including regional hospitals at Carle Foundation Hospital and Presence Covenant Medical Center in Urbana. A clinic for low-income patients is operated by Promise Health Care at the Frances Nelson Health Center in Champaign. Older veterans have the opportunity to seek care at a VA hospital in neighboring Danville, IL.
Transportation services are provided free for individuals with disabilities and those over age 65, and at reduced costs for other older adults by the award-winning Champaign-Urbana Mass Transit District (C-U MTD). CU-MTD has an extensive bus system throughout the two cities.5 CU–MTD also offers curb-to-curb pick-up and drop-off for mobility impaired users. Champaign County Area Rural Transit System (C-CARTS) is available for locations outside of the two cities.6
Both the Champaign and Urbana Park Districts offer classes and programs geared towards older adults. The Urbana Park District offers fitness classes, a Senior Citizens Club, drop-in senior programs, bus tours, and technology help. The Champaign Park District offers regular “50 Plus!” programs at two local senior centers (the Hays Recreation Center and the Douglass Annex) with open game days, chair exercises, computer classes, potlucks, and a monthly “50 Plus!” community meeting. Both Park Districts offer paved and unpaved trails for recreation with over 16 miles of trails in Urbana and 18 miles in Champaign. Recreation and swimming programs are also offered by the Stephens Family YMCA in Champaign. Additionally, residents of all ages can enjoy entertainment in venues like the Virginia Theater, a historic performing arts center and movie palace owned and operated by the Champaign Park District.7
Enrichment education for those aged 50 or older is offered by the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, which includes 1300 older adults as members.8 Parkland Community College offers continuing education classes for both personal and professional development in the areas of; art, technology, fitness, music, health and wellness, foreign languages, money management, and opportunities for day trips and overnight educational excursions. The University of Illinois Extension provides community-based training and education on complex issues facing aging families and professionals working with aging families that can benefit from evidence-based and research-informed Extension programming. They have a variety of program focused on; aging issues, brain health, Alzheimer’s/dementia, caregiving, retirement transitions, managing stress, maintaining balance in life, life story writing, grandparents raising grandchildren, and grief/loss.
As the host for the University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana has many more cultural and entertainment activities than would be expected for a city of its size. Big Ten sports are a huge draw and there are world-class musical, dance, and drama performances at the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts, as well as a number of other performance venues on and near the campus. The campus itself has two major museums, the Krannert Art Museum and the Spurlock Museum of world history and culture, as well as several special collections. Other amenities include an Arboretum, golf course, formal gardens, and Japan House Cultural Center, among many others. The attractions provided by the University of Illinois combined with the relative safety and affordability of the community make it a very compelling place in which to grow older and/or to retire.
While Champaign-Urbana offers a rich array of services for older persons, through the Age-Friendly process, we propose to dramatically improve the extent, awareness and access to these services to better benefit older residents throughout the community. This can be done through transformation of our neighborhoods, commercial areas and community focal points, making them more senior-friendly and easier to navigate for older persons. Implementation steps might include adoption and implementation of a pedestrian access and safety plan, and/or incorporation of measures suggested by the Vision Zero and 8 80 Cities movements9. We can seek to expand the availability of services to older persons, at all income ranges and in all neighborhoods, perhaps through implementation of a community volunteer bank (as in the Villages concept10) or through other networks. We can seek to further improve the compilation and distribution of resource information for seniors through increased collaboration among agencies and organizations offering services. Additionally, we see potential for the development of inter-generational programs for University of Illinois undergraduate students and older adults in the community. We can also promote improved engagement by older adults from throughout the community on issues of interest and relevance to their lives, including advocacy against ageism and discrimination. Further, Age-Friendly Champaign-Urbana is proactive about supporting the needs of a diverse population of older adults, regardless of race, ethnicity, income, education, and gender and sexual identities.