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Older Adults Are Thriving in Minneapolis' Diverse Communities

Neighborhoods are transforming to become more accessible

spinner image Woman Lucy Galbraith standing at a metro transit center in Minneapolis Minnesota
Lucy Galbraith moved from Austin, Texas to take a job with Metro Transit in Minneapolis.
Ackerman + Gruber

In 2014, Lucy Galbraith relocated from Austin, Texas, to the notably cooler climate of Minneapolis, a move she called “invigorating.” Living in central Texas “was not healthy for me because I wasn't outside,” Galbraith says. “I drove from my air-conditioned house to my air-conditioned office to the air-conditioned store.”

Galbraith made this migration in her 60s to take a job as director of transit-oriented development at Metro Transit, which operates public transportation in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area. Her story is not unusual.

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A worker crunch, especially in the attractive fields of technology and health care, is creating a prime opportunity for older people in Minneapolis. By 2022, there may be 239,000 fewer workers than jobs available in the area, so many companies have started to reconsider “how they think about the aging workforce and some of the incentives that are attractive to somebody at midlife or near retirement,” says Jonathan Weinhagen, president and CEO of the Minneapolis Regional Chamber of Commerce.

This includes allowing phased retirement, in which employees gradually reduce their hours, and giving some part-time workers full benefits. At a recent forum hosted by the Minnesota Talent and Recruiting Network, state officials urged representatives from about 70 businesses, governments and nonprofits to consider implementing such policies to attract and retain older workers.

Minneapolis at a Glance

  • Population: 425,395
  • Portion of population 50 and older: 24.7 percent
  • Median home value: $269,500
  • Median household income: $63,590
  • Unemployment rate: 3.2 percent

At Fairview Health Services, a Minneapolis-based nonprofit, some of the 34,000-plus employees may retain their benefits even if they move to part-time work and can adjust their schedules and shifts to balance family commitments, such as caring for aging parents.

Employees may also change their roles as they age, said Laura Beeth, Fairview's vice president for talent acquisition. A nurse seeking less physical work may transition to behavioral health or home care, while an older clinician might take on an adjunct faculty role at one of Fairview's teaching hospitals.

"It's about being creative and flexible and valuing experience,” Beeth says. “Experience is invaluable, and we need to treasure that."

Beeth's own team of 75 employees is among the most diverse, including older workers, she says. “That's intentional. Folks here know how we welcome people and teach them.” One team member has remained eligible for benefits even though she has reduced her hours to care for grandchildren and sick parents. “We don't want her to have to choose between family and work,” Beeth says.

See where Minneapolis ranked on the AARP Livability Index

spinner image Public art structure in Minneapolis
Spoonbridge and Cherry art structure in Minneapolis
Bernd Jonkmanns/laif/Redux

"Years ago, not many local organizations were focused on aging. Now, it seems, it's much more compelling,” says Philomena Satre, director of diversity and inclusion and strategic external partnerships at Land O'Lakes. “I find the Twin Cities to be super-collaborative, and the things we're doing and the coalitions that exist, and people working on different initiatives have really made a difference.”

Satre started an employee group called Aging Successfully that meets regularly to talk about issues affecting older workers, such as caring for their own aging parents.

Galbraith rents a condo in the bustling North Loop district, a 15-minute walk from work, and she makes the trek year-round thanks to “good winter gear.” Galbraith also takes frequent walks along the nearby Mississippi River and is just blocks from a light rail stop.

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In her Metro Transit position, she works to get selected Metro Transit properties developed as transit-oriented developments and collaborates with urban planners and developers to promote walkable neighborhoods within transit corridors. She says developments that serve older residents are a natural fit for the city. “The market demand is there,” she says.

spinner image People walking on stone arch bridge across the Mississippi River in Minneapolis with the city skyline above
A stone arch bridge across the Mississippi River in Minneapolis with the city skyline above

One such complex is The Pillars, an $85 million senior living center two blocks from the Prospect Park light rail stop and bordering the University of Minnesota campus. The 283-unit center, which is set to open in the spring, will include ground-floor retail shops, a theater community room with adjoining roof deck and fitness center, a bus service and a day care center that will allow older people to interact with young children.

Another perk for residents: a membership in the university's alumni association, which carries discounts to university and sporting events. Older residents can find community in other parts of town as well.

"There are remarkable opportunities here to get involved in good stuff,” says Charlie Lakin, 73, who sits on the city's Advisory Commission on Aging. He spends several hours each month giving neighbors rides and performing odd jobs for them through Southeast Seniors, a nonprofit that helps older residents stay in their homes.

Across town, Nokomis Healthy Seniors shares a similar mission, serving about 500 older residents each year. Supported by city grants, the organization has volunteers who provide programming such as health education, transportation and exercise, says Executive Director Megan Elliasen.

Neighborhoods are also being transformed. A hotly contested plan, approved in late 2018, will eliminate single-family zoning in order to create more density. The plan, believed to be the first of its kind in the nation, allows residential structures of up to three dwelling units in every neighborhood in the city.

"Seniors have told me they need more options in the housing market” to stay in their homes and neighborhoods, says City Council President Lisa Bender, who backed the plan. “More flexibility will help achieve that."

The change creates opportunities for “intentional communities,” in which older adults can pool resources for deliveries, transportation and caregiving, says Christina Kendrick, senior community specialist for Minneapolis. “The more options you have for housing, the more people benefit.”

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