There is a phenomenon upending the real estate market in Portland – the return of the “empty nesters.”

Well-heeled retirees and people near retirement age are downsizing from big houses in the suburbs, trading lawn-mowing, leaf-raking and driveway-shoveling for being able to walk out of their apartment doors to shop, eat, see a play, visit a museum or volunteer in a school or church.

They also have the advantage of being near a hospital, doctors’ offices and other vital services.

There is no reason that this kind of living should be limited to the wealthy, or that it can exist only in places like Portland’s trendier neighborhoods. Every town in Maine has the opportunity to start doing things now that would make them places where residents can stay healthy and connected to friends, family and community as they age.

That’s the message from Maine AARP, which has issued an important planning aid called “The Maine Guide: Building Livable, Age-Friendly Communities.”

The concept of age-friendly communities is a new way of thinking about the best living environments for older people that has been developed by the AARP nationally. Instead of segregating older people in senior housing complexes or retirement developments, the organization supports concentrating services, developing transportation options and creating opportunities for seniors to be socially engaged with people of all ages.

So far, much of the thinking on this has been focused on urban areas, but Maine’s AARP has developed ways that small towns can start thinking about the kinds of elements that would make them age-friendly, and to include them in their planning processes.

Some of the changes involve investment. Safe access to parks, municipal services, community organizations and shopping is one way that a community becomes more age-friendly. A range of housing options and programs that help people modify their homes and maintain them are also important. Communities should consider how people who don’t drive a car can avoid social isolation. Access to high-speed internet also helps people stay independent and connected.

But just as important as the infrastructure is getting the right people to talk with each other, so they can coordinate decisions about the future. The AARP guide is an invaluable resource for the people who want to make those conversations bear fruit.

Every community in Maine can find ways to be age-friendly, giving residents the opportunity to be active and engaged as they grow older.