Williamsburg Healthy Aging and Community Design

PVPC collaborated with the Town of Williamsburg's Elder Services/Council on Aging, Healthy Hampshire and WalkBoston on a project that examined how healthy aging in Williamsburg is affected by the Town's Community Design. 

Williamsburg, MA is a small rural community with a rapidly aging population. By 2025 it is projected that 40% of the Town’s population will be 60 years or older. The number of older adults over 80 will likely double between 2010 and 2035. While Williamsburg benefits from engaged citizens, attractive village centers, and functioning senior services, the town’s land use pattern and transportation system create challenges for healthy aging. 

Housing stock in Williamsburg is generally older and larger. Many older adults are burdened by property taxes that stress their finances, home maintenance and repair needs, and homes that are difficult to access or move through due to hills, stairs, layout, etc. There are few options in Williamsburg for older adults who want to downsize to smaller or less expensive housing within town. There are very limited affordable housing options in town. There is no continuing care, assisted living, or nursing home in Williamsburg—though there are several facilities in neighboring Northampton. 

Walking in Williamsburg is constrained by numerous hills, narrow rural roads that lack safe space for pedestrians, and a heavily traveled state highway that runs through the middle of the two village centers—Haydenville and Williamsburg centers. 

Older adults are able to meet some basic needs in the town—at the post office, library, two small markets, several restaurants, and a pharmacy/hardware store—but they must travel outside of town for many needs, for example to visit most medical providers (including a dentist or eye care), or to shop at a full-size supermarket. Out of town driving presents a challenge for some older adults who are not comfortable driving long distances, or navigating the more busy small cities where those services are present. Finally, older adults are seriously concerned about what would happen if they lost the ability to drive—they foresee that they would be profoundly isolated and unable to carry out day-to-day activities.  

The main thrust of this project was to identify key opportunities to facilitate healthy aging through community design in Williamsburg and support older adults in advocating for their needs. The project involved extensive public input, a walk audit by Walk Boston, and a targeted review of Williamsburg's plans, policies and regulations--using PVPC's Healthy Community Design Toolkit

We identified specific action steps that the Town and its residents can take to facilitate healthy aging. The recommendations reflect the following goals: 

  • increase the diversity of housing opportunities for older adults in Williamsburg
  • provide transportation options that enable older adults to carry out day-to-day activities in and around Williamsburg in a safe, convenient and cost effective manner
  • provide older adults with additional opportunities for physical activity in Williamsburg, including active transportation, walking for recreation, organized classes, and other outdoor recreation
  • rethink the delivery of Senior Services in Williamsburg. 

The project was funded by a mini-grant from Massachusetts Associaton of Health Boards in partnership with Department of Public Health with in-kind assistance from Healthy Hampshire and Walk Boston.  

Download PVPC's final project report below. Additional project reports and materials are available upon request. 



Williamsburg Healthy Aging Final Report
Final report by PVPC for the Williamsburg Healthy Aging and Community Design project.


Final report from WalkBoston's walk audit of Williamsburg Center (Burgy) from April 2016