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Investing in an Age-Friendly Princeton

The New Jersey town (home to the university with the same name) takes action

Pedestrains on street, shops, Princeton, New Jersey, AARP Livable Communities

Aimin Tang/Getty Images

The shopping area of Princeton, New Jersey. Princeton became the first town in New Jersey to join the AARP Network of Age-Friendly Communities in April 2014. Two years later, its Age Friendly Task Force released a community action plan, which touts the pedestrian friendly shopping area.

Home to Princeton University and a wealth of cultural and educational opportunities, Princeton became the first town in New Jersey to join the AARP Network of Age-Friendly Communities in April 2014. Two years later, its Age Friendly Task Force released a community action plan, which aims to improve this college town's age-friendliness, especially in the areas of affordable housing and transportation.

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"Princeton prides itself on being a great place to live, work, learn, play, raise a family and grow old," writes Princeton Mayor Liz Lempert. "This report sheds light on the most pressing issues impacting our older residents and outlines an action plan to ensure we are addressing the most crucial needs."

To help develop the plan, the Princeton Senior Resource Center convened 10 focus groups during the fall of 2015 that engaged dozens of residents in conversations around the eight domains of livability: outdoor spaces and buildings; transportation; housing; social participation; community health and support; respect and social inclusion; civic participation and employment; and communication and information.

Questions included:

  • Do you feel you’ll be able to remain in your home as you get older?
  • How do you get around for shopping, medical appointments, social activities?
  • How do you find out about activities and programs in the Princeton area?

These focus-group conversations helped the age-friendly task force to pinpoint areas of improvement and identify appropriate goals and action items. Many of these items can be addressed within the next two to three years with existing committees and volunteers, suggest the authors. "Others involve significant costs and will need to be considered within the context of other municipal priorities," they write. 

Key Findings

  • There is no lack of brainpower in Princeton. Thanks to the university, residents enjoy an abundance of intellectual and cultural programs, including lectures, art exhibitions, concerts, and theater performances. The Princeton Public Library bustles with book clubs, technology and other services, while the Princeton Senior Resource Center serves more than 1,300 people a week. Its popular "GrandPals" program (see the photo below) pairs hundreds of seniors with school children.
An older woman and two pre-school girls take a break from reading at a library.

Photo courtesy of the Princeton Senior Resource Center

A partnership of Princeton public schools and the Princeton Senior Resource Center, the GrandPals program enables older adult volunteers and local Kindergarten, 1st and 2nd graders to spend time together reading and talking.

  • Housing is a key concern. People want to move to Princeton, and their demand has driven up prices. In 2014, the median value of an owner-occupied house in the U.S. was $157,000. In New Jersey, it was $319,900. In Princeton, it was $760,800. Meanwhile, residents see few opportunities to downsize or rent. Increasing the availability of affordable, age-friendly housing "is perhaps Princeton's greatest challenge in the years ahead," the plan reports.

  • Princeton is a very walkable community, especially in its thriving center. The town also offers several no-cost buses. The "freeB" bus stops at senior centers, downtown stores and the library. The university's "Tiger Transit" is open to all. However, these and other bus options are mostly limited to weekdays, not evenings or weekends, and the routes and schedule are not well understood by potential riders. 

Two Major Goals

  1. Increase the number of affordable housing units. Princeton has identified town-owned land where units could be built, and the town requires developers to include a minimum number of affordable units in their plans. The age-friendly task force recommends that Princeton also explore zoning changes that support cohousing and "granny flats."

  2. Improve pedestrian, bicycle and public transportation. Princeton's recently adopted Complete Streetspolicy includes plans to: integrate the services of the freeB and Tiger Transit bus systems; install a "real time" transit information system; embark on a public information campaign about the transit options; and investigate longer hours for the FreeB bus, as well as "pop up" transportation services for evening events.

Other Action Items

  • Create guidelines for the adaptive use and renovation of existing housing. Many homeowners would prefer to adapt their current homes to meet their anticipated needs as they age. This checklist would include features and fixtures that should be considered during renovation.

  • Making walking safer by improving crosswalks, fixing sidewalks, and enforcing speed limits, intersection safety laws and also snow removal laws.

  • Complete the town's bicycle master plan and expand its bike-share program across the community.

  • Increase awareness of existing community resource centers, such as the Princeton Senior Resource Center, Access Princeton and the Princeton Public Library, through a publicity campaign. A community calendar also will be created and maintained by the library.

  • Create neighborhood groups in all Princeton neighborhoods.

  • Increase multi-generational and multi-cultural activities.

How To Use

Residents and community leaders in Princeton will use this action plan to make their town more livable for their growing population of aging adults. Other communities in the AARP Network of Age-Friendly Communities can look to Princeton's work as a possible model for their own efforts.

Report published June 2016. Summary by Mary Ellen Flannery

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