latest from Neal Peirce
- AGING OF THE BABY BOOM:
A COMMUNITY BLUEPRINT FOR ACTION
By Neal Peirce
What will the aging of the Baby Boom generation mean for Americas communities?
Will the folks whose sheer numbers and market mastery brought us endless subdivisions, monster malls, and life in the SUV lane, want to keep sprawling out in the ample swath of golden years that modern medicine seems to promise them?
Or will many want a return to the more walkable, accessible town and neighborhood settings of yesteryear?
The questions pop out from a read of a new Blueprint for Action on how smart communities can adjust to and capitalize on the oncoming tidal wave of seniors. The report, prepared by Partners for Livable Communities for the MetLife Foundation and National Association of Area Agencies on Aging, was released in Washington last month ( www.aginginplaceinitative.org).
The overwhelming number of seniors, it notes, wont be moving off to the Sunbelt (if theyre not already there), or be residents in nursing homes. Most will choose to age in place, in the same homes, or close to the same communities theyve lived in for years.
But needs often shift at 65+ or if not then, 75+ or 85+. Physical strength and reactions wane; eventually most seniors either cant or shouldnt be driving. Friends, doctors offices, stores, places of entertainment all become harder to reach. The big house becomes excess space. Home may need new accessibility features like wider doors or grab bars.
So localities, the new Blueprint advocates, had better think hard about town planning and services that aging in place scenarios will be requiring.
A major target: post-World War II zoning codes that often make it literally illegal to recreate the intimate, mixed-use neighborhoods that marked all of earlier American history. Large minimum lot sizes, setting buildings back from street lines, the separation of residences, shops and offices, and requiring more than ample parking all push us further and further apart.
So communities now need to look to an 180-degree turn new land use plans and zoning codes that actually encourage residences within easy walking and biking distance of such basic amenities as food markets, drug stores, cafes, banks and parks. So that seniors then can have a normal life, even without a car for every errand.
A big potential: widening the supply of accessory dwelling units also called granny flats or mother-in-law apartments. These small upstairs and backyard units, szed correctly for one or two people, were common in the late 19th and early 20th centuries in towns both large and small. But theyve been opposed in recent years by neighbors complaining theyll bring renters or undesirable people into communities, or create parking problems.
Enough already! Seniors can be tenants of such units attached to homes occupied by children or relatives. Or if they still own their homes, seniors can carve out and rent space in them to others, sometimes in exchange for household duties. Or if theres a garage in back, convert it to rental space for a young single person and pick up some extra income.
With the added population the extra units provide, communities can expect tax yields to rise, local businesses to flourish, and livelier communities to grow. Santa Cruz, Calif., has not just cleared zoning for the granny flats but hired seven architects to design prototypes and made it possible for homeowners who build the prototypes to get the units through the permitting process with minimal delays.
The new Blueprint includes a raft of new strategies for seniors. Richmond, Va., is among communities that have instituted walkability audits to identify correctable barriers such as short pedestrian crossing cycles or broken sidewalks. For seniors who do still drive, the Michigan Department of Transportation has cut back on injurious crashes through brighter stop lights and larger street-name signs.
Refresher driving courses for older adults, more flexible transit services, training law enforcement officers to detect and report elder abuse the Blueprint list is extensive. It goes on to include arts and culture programs that involve people of all ages, digital age training for computer literacy, a major emphasis on civic engagement including seniors meeting to define their own community priorities and volunteering for one-on-one counseling and mentoring of school children.
On the health front, the report lists exercise and active living programs and a single areawide point of entry for information about services ranging from transportation to doctors offices to home health care; typically such services are dispersed across many agencies and providers.
About the only recommendation that made me recoil was special property tax exemptions for seniors, school taxes included. Bad idea! In this age of Medicare and Social Security, its more often young working families who are caught in the worst fiscal squeeze. Anyway, the points not to make seniors a privileged class. Its to create full communities in which seniors are full, living partners with us all.
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J.H. Crawford Carfree Cities
- | Will [Baby Boomers] whose sheer numbers and market mastery
| brought us endless subdivisions, monster malls, and life in
| the SUV lane, want to keep sprawling out in the ample swath
| of golden years that modern medicine seems to promise them?
=v= Sigh. This trendazoid prose is annoying. The U.S. pattern
of mall-sprawl is a project started by an earlier generation
(think Robert Moses and the Eisenhower Administration), and
"life in the SUV lane" has been embraced by far too many
Americans born after 1964. Pointing fingers at people from
the get-go isn't the best way to introduce new ideas to them.
=v= It distracts from the larger issue of elders who become
utterly dependent on cars that they may no longer be able to
drive, and how the problem is about to become much worse.
| A big potential: widening the supply of "accessory dwelling
| units" -- also called "granny flats" or "mother-in-law
| apartments." These small upstairs and backyard units,
| sized correctly for one or two people, were common in the
| late 19th and early 20th centuries in towns both large and
| small. But they've been opposed in recent years by neighbors
| complaining they'll bring renters or undesirable people into
| communities, or create parking problems.
=v= A huge problem in San Francisco is the widespread attempt
to address "parking problems" by destroying these units to put
in garages. I would venture a guess that most of them have
been destroyed already, along with street trees, entire front
yards, and other things that make communities walkable. (And
of course it doesn't help parking at all, since accommodating
more cars only induces more traffic.)
=v= The monied interests in S.F. are trying to require that all
new construction has one garage parking space per unit. This
means that all new residents will need to be able to afford a
garage that they may not need (30% of the households in this
city are carfree). They haven't dredged up the "undesirables"
angle, but that is of a piece with their previous campaigns.