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Towns and Cities Prepare for Aging Populations

Older Americans want to age in place

Get used to hearing about "age-friendly cities" and "livable communities."

That's exactly what many towns and cities are striving to become as the first of 78 million boomers turn 65 this year. In 10 years those boomers will be 75, and in 10 more, age 85. For the next 19 years, nearly 10,000 people a day will celebrate the big 6-5. And that doesn't include the demographic that reached 65 before 2011.

Age Friendly Cities

Age-friendly cities are on the rise. — Dave and Les Jacobs/Blend/Aurora

See also: How You Can Age in Your Own Space.

On the whole, we are becoming an older population, and cities are actively getting ready.

There's a movement afoot to improve the quality of life for all residents — especially older Americans — and make it easier to age in their community. That means encouraging physical activity such as walking (walking = exercise = increased mobility = better health = staying in your home longer), while reducing dependence on cars. It means having convenient access to stores, parks, healthy food, and social and health services, as well as safe and readily available public transportation. It also means offering affordable and varied housing as residents' needs change, and revamping zoning codes to allow for thoughtful growth and development. And this especially means giving older people opportunities for social interaction and civic engagement such as volunteering.

Today, more than 300 livable community initiatives are under way nationwide, and state and federal agencies are awarding grants to research, test and implement new models. Creative and unexpected partnerships are forming among private businesses, municipal departments, government agencies, aging experts, nonprofits, academia, social service organizations, grassroots advocacy groups and senior centers to brainstorm how to make their city or town age-friendly for both the very active and the very frail. They conclude that what is good for older people — lots of parks, opportunities to exercise, healthy food, a safe and convenient transit system — is also good for everyone else. And there's the money factor, too: Residents add to the tax coffers. People move to places that address their needs.

Getting ready for tomorrow becomes especially critical in light of recent AARP research showing that 89 percent of the 50-plus population want to remain in their homes as long as possible, and, if not, at least in their community. "We're dealing with the issue head on, and not waiting until there's a crisis," says Christine Knapp, director of outreach at Citizens for Pennsylvania's Future (PennFuture), an environmental advocacy organization that has partnered with 130 other groups to work on Philly's aging issue. "Rather than just asking what seniors' needs are, we're figuring out what we can all do to incorporate them into our planning so they can be an active part of their communities for the rest of their lives."

Next: Three cities preparing for an aging population >>

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