If you’re an older adult or a nature lover, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says Scarborough is a great place to live.

The town received a national award Feb. 8 for its commitment to providing housing and activities for senior citizens, while developing land in an environmentally responsible manner. It was one of only five municipalities and organizations in the country to receive the EPA’s 2007 Building Healthy Communities for Active Aging Commitment Award.

Announced in Washington, the awards recognize communities for “outstanding” efforts to support “active aging and responsible development.”

The EPA praised several of Scarborough’s initiatives, such as converting the Bessey School into senior housing, creating a future land use plan that protects rural and open spaces; and establishing the Senior Center Without Walls, a network of programs, services, and partnerships for older residents.

“(Scarborough officials) are making special efforts to address the needs of a growing (senior) population, moreso than most other communities in York and Cumberland counties that we work with,” said Laurence Gross, executive director of the Southern Maine Agency on Aging. “The town has been doing the kinds of things that the EPA was looking to identify, (to) show other towns that it could be done.”

Four other organizations and communities where honored for their commitment to healthy aging: Brazos Valley Council of Governments in Texas; Carver County Public Health Division in Minnesota; City of Rogers in Arkansas; and Queen Anne’s County Housing Authority, in Maryland.

In addition, the Atlanta Regional Commission in Georgia and the City of Kirkland in Washington received Achievement Awards for projects that have already been completed.

According to the EPA, about 6,000 of Scarborough’s 18,900 residents are 50 and over – a number that is expected to grow if current trends continue.

“Scarborough is what I’d call a family community,” Town Manager Ron Owens said. “Up until about 10 years ago, seniors probably had family in town. Over the last 10 years, in particular, there has been a growth in older people moving here … Those are the people who do not have family here.”

Those seniors are looking for recreation, activities and housing, he said.

After two referenda to build a senior center failed in recent years, local residents and town officials created the Senior Center Without Walls, which offers programs for seniors either outdoors or in existing, borrowed space in schools, churches and other buildings. A senior service coordinator position was recently created at the municipal offices. And town officials have expressed a commitment to building more senior-friendly housing and infrastructure.

Gross praised town officials, including Owens, and said other Maine towns could learn from Scarborough. From public transportation to parks to programs, muncipaliities can do a lot to improve the quality of life for a growing older population, he said.

“The first thing they need to learn, if they don’t know it already, is that their population is aging rapidly,” he said. “We are the oldest state in the nation … and we are a rapidly aging state.”


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