We know it’s coming. The silver tsunami is rising.
Baby boomer Americans are getting older and continuing to increase in startling numbers. The US Census Bureau predicts that between 2000 and 2050 there will be a 147 percent increase in demographics for individuals aged 65 and over while the entire population as a whole will increase by only 49 percent. Older adults will represent more than 20 percent of the population.
So what are cities and towns doing to prepare for this demographic change? What should be done to build age friendly cities and towns?
Fortunately there are some leaders and innovators.
In New York City, Mayor Michael Bloomberg has begun to change the face of senior centers. Once just a drop off place to avoid isolation, there are 8 pilot centers now on their way to be an intentional destination with vital activities such as underwater photography, rooftop gardening, technology courses and video conferencing. It will also be the first in the country dedicated to supporting the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) communities and also focus on seniors with vision problems.
This city is also creatively mining their assets. Idle school buses are being used to take seniors grocery shopping from senior centers and senior centers will offer studio space to artists in exchange for their services, such as teaching art classes to senior center members.
The critical key continues to be communication and support in a networked approach among stakeholders and others to make the Age-Friendly NYC project effective and sustainable. “The mayor’s office formed a partnership with The New York Academy of Medicine to consult with the city’s seniors, service providers, advocates and experts” with a 4 year timeline for implementation. With 59 public-sector initiatives in progress, seniors will reap benefits of being safer and more engaged than other large cities facing such changing demographics. Mayor Bloomberg says “…as older New Yorkers continue to redefine the aging experience, government has a responsibility to keep pace and to find innovative ways to empower this community and improve its quality of life.” It’s no wonder that older New Yorkers are moving back from Florida.
Many urban leaders are tackling these issues because creating age friendly cities is an imperative. They are also aware that when city changes are implemented to assist older adults, it positively impacts other groups. For example, everyone could use outdoor seating, we all would like accessible public toilets and pedestrian crossings reconfigured to accommodate slow walkers would also help pregnant women, adults with small children and people with disabilities.
Cities are dynamic places to live. Many empty nesters are moving to or staying in urban areas for short (often walking) distance to shopping, easy access to transportation, a range of social services and a plethora of cultural opportunities. They pay taxes, fuel the economy and contribute in a variety of ways that maintain a diverse and involved presence. Creating age friendly cities is not only an obligation but also an important way to grow vital and harmonious communities.
"Leaders can inspire cities and cities can inspire leaders."
Jim Hunt, former Governor of North Carolina