In the On Point podcast, “Designing Communities for an Aging America,” the issues of creating and maintaining age-friendly communities were discussed.
Sacha Pfeiffer, the guest host, started out by saying that most U.S. cities were not designed for an aging community.
The number of people in the over 65 age group will double by 2050, Pfeiffer said. The problems range from crosswalks being too short to not having enough benches to rest at a busstop.
Paul Irving, chairman of the Center for the Future of Aging at the Milken Institute, said that there are 10,000 baby boomers turning 65 every day. The fastest growing cohort of people is older people.
“It almost feels like global warming, like it’s happening slowly,” he said.
He said that we can either ignore the problems or call for fundamental change. “We can shift and realize this is a permanent state of affairs,” he said. It’s not just about baby boomers, he added. It’s about Millennials, Generation X, and Generation Y as well. The people in these groups will live longer.
The city in which I attended college, Evanston, is starting to push forward an age friendly initiative. They have created a task force and an action plan that was approved by city council in June 2016. The plan included many facets, such as transportation, communication, and housing. Evanston is part of the World Health Organization’s “Age Friendly Cities” initiative “to educate, encourage, promote, and recognize improvements that will make Evanston more user-friendly not only for senior residents but for residents of all ages.”
Ruth Finkelstein, professor of health policy and management at the Columbia University Aging Center, emphasized the importance of walking in the community. “The number one people get around is to walk,” she said. “We undervalue that.”
Walking is good physically, cognitively, and socially, she added. We need to take a look at the city’s sidewalks. The first job is to put in sidewalks where there are none. The second job is to maintain the sidewalk, so we don’t have to walk with our heads down trying to avoid falling. This applies to all age groups, not just senior citizens. Anyone can fall on a sidewalk.
One of the key themes of the age friendly initiatives is that it is not just important for senior citizens. It is to make the cities friendly for people of all ages. In Evanston, they created surveys for their residents to suggest ways to make Evanston “a place to grow up and grow old.” The consequences of an age friendly initiative in a given city will have far-reaching consequences for all generations.