KINGSPORT — Area AARP members say they are satisfied with their communities and think the Model City is a good place for older people to live. At the same time, these same people are concerned about their health care costs and maintaining their independence as they get older.
These answers are just some found in a recent survey of more than 1,300 AARP members in the greater Kingsport area.
Last year AARP selected 15 communities across the nation to be home to pilot programs focusing on the idea of livable communities — communities that allow people to maintain their independence and quality of life as they age and retire. AARP Tennessee selected Kingsport to serve as one of the state’s pilot program locations, with local officials choosing a survey to garner opinions.
During a news conference Tuesday, officials presented Mayor Dennis Phillips with the AARP Livable Communities Survey.
“Kingsport is our home. It’s a great city, and we want to make it greater,” said Margot Seay, AARP Tennessee state president and a Kingsport resident. “I don’t think the livable communities is a senior issue. I think it’s everybody’s responsibility to make their community the best it can be. We know people want to live, work and play here for a lifetime, and AARP believes by working together we can make that possible.”
The AARP mailed the survey to 3,000 randomly selected members in the greater Kingsport area and received 1,331 replies — a 44 percent rate of return. In addition, the AARP handed out 300 surveys to non-members at other locations and got 108 returned.
“I’m so pleased to see so many findings in the survey about how to improve the neighborhoods, which will help all of us no matter our age,” Seay said.
The survey consists of about 40 questions regarding the community and two pages of biographical questions. The questionnaire asks people about their concerns and mobility, the importance of certain features in the community and their neighborhoods, and how satisfied they are with Kingsport.
According to the survey, 32 percent of AARP respondents are extremely satisfied with Kingsport as a place to live, while 50 percent are very satisfied. The top two concerns of those surveyed were affording the cost of health care and being able to remain independent as they get older.
“Folks like Kingsport and want to be a part of making it a better, livable community,” said AARP State Director Rebecca Kelly.
Respondents said the biggest gap between what is important and what exists in Kingsport is well-run and located community and recreation centers. Safety and security, well-designed and maintained streets, and adequate street lighting in the neighborhoods were considered the most important features of AARP members, the survey states.
The biggest gap for neighborhoods is well-maintained sidewalks and a service that helps low-income and older persons with home repairs. Kingsport, however, has a program through the Kingsport Housing and Redevelopment Authority that does emergency repairs on homes in need, with most of the homes being owned by senior citizens.
About 30 members of the community including community and business leaders, people in education, the young and the old, crafted the questions for the survey.
After receiving the survey, Phillips said it would not be just another study that sits on a shelf in the Kingsport Public Library.
He announced the creation of a Blue Ribbon Committee on Livability to develop an action plan using the results of the AARP survey. The committee will include four former Kingsport mayors (Jeanette Blazier, Ruth Montgomery, Hunter Wright and Garner Hammond) and former Aldermen Boots Duke and Frank Brogden.