Skip to main content

Infrastructure and "Age-Proofing" - What Does Preparing for Aging Mean?

As you know, I have a special place in my heart for bringing multiple topics together. Soon after I wrote "Can We Do More Than One Thing at a Time?," the AARP team was contacted by Emily Badger of Atlantic Cities to talk about aging and what that meant for cities. She later wrote an article tying together infrastructure concerns and aging issues, "The Next Big Infrastructure Crisis? Age-Proofing Our Streets" on the Atlantic Cities site.  That piece was the most popular article on their site for a day or two, and at this point, it has about 900 likes, shares and +1s on social media, including a couple from me.




I'm quoted in her article: "'Whenever I talk about our policy prescriptions," says Rodney Harrell, a senior policy adviser for housing with the AARP Public Policy Institute, "I say, 'we're going to help you do now what you're going to be forced to do then.' Because you're not going to be able to hide when you've got 20-plus percent of your population over 65. That's a huge portion of the population that's going to come.'"


It's important to understand that older adults should be incorporated into planning and policymaking as some forward-thinking communities have already started doing.  As I read the comments, I found myself unsurprisingly disappointed at the way that several readers responded - with complaints that "wealthy boomers" can afford to pay for what they need or complaints about the fact that enough baby-boomers aren't agitating for these changes.  The mistake that some make is viewing everything only through a political lens - what is this group asking for and what other group will pay for it.  As a generation Xer who works in part on aging issues, I don't have the convenience of lining up with one side or the other on any so-called "age battles."  I try my best to look objectively at the issues facing American communities over the next few years and decades, and look at the pros and cons for every group.  Unfortunately, the failure to invest in our infrastructure seems shortsighted - there is economic development potential today from building it, but more importantly, creating jobs, improving commerce, and easing lives can have economic impacts in the years to come, and the aging population is a factor that should be on every policymaker's mind.


We shouldn't be fooled into thinking that all older adults are wealthy or are having their needs met - see this AARP Public Policy Institute report on low-income older adults and the need to incorporate them into "transit-oriented developments." We highlighted the ways that older adults (and others) can benefit, but also highlighted the fact that simply spending money isn't always wise - it needs to be part of a strategic process that takes a broad look at needs, costs and benefits.  The people that come to community meetings (on either side of an issue) may not represent the wider population - we should widen our search to capture the broadest possible range of community member's desires.  This may mean reaching out through alternative methods to find out the perspective of all  groups within the community.

Although Emily's piece focused largely on crosswalks, the same goes for all of our housing, transportation,and land use decisions. My suggestion is simple - we should do our best to make our communities work for everyone, and look at the long term, not just the short.

What do you think? You can follow me @DrUrbanPolicy on twitter and facebook, and find my work with AARP Public Policy Institute here . I'm happy to continue the conversation below or on social media.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Efficiency and Affordability: Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs)

I haven't been posting often lately, as things have been pretty hectic.   I did receive a question the other day about  topic that I haven't spoken about here:  Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs), and it inspired me to write a quick post.  These are sometimes known as "accessory apartments," "mother-in-law suites" or "granny flats" - they are ways to provide more housing options in existing neighborhoods by allowing homeowners to build additional units on their lots.  ADU is a catch-all term for all of these situations - either units attached to existing homes or placed somewhere else on the property, say over a garage or a stand-alone in the backyard. 

They are part of the range of housing options that help to ensure that people of all ages, including older adults, can meet their needs.  AARP's model ordinance on ADUs was written by staff at the American Planning Association and was an attempt to find a set of regulations that would meet livabili…

Tales from a Condominium Association: Caps on renters and the dynamics of decision-making

As some of you know, aside from my day job developing policy and research, I am also a president of a homeowners association - specifically a multi-building condominium association.  I've been on the board for years, and I enjoy the fact that it keeps me honest - although I am looking at the wide national policy lens in the daytime, I have to face the day-to-day realities of the smallest local government in the evenings.  While I am the lead author of AARP's policy on housing issues and I am responsible for the policy direction of the American Planning Association's Planning and the Black Community Division, I am also heading up a homeowners association in an area that's been hit hard by the Great Recession.  That means that I need to think at the 30,000 foot level, but I have to keep a foot on the ground at the same time.

The latest example of this was Monday night (thanks to my TiVo, I didn't have to miss the call heard 'round the world by the replacement ref…

The "Boom" in Golden Girls-Style Shared Housing: Where’s the Beef?

NBC, Touchstone Television and their partners should be proud– it has been 22 years since the final episode aired, yet the influence of The Golden Girlsmeans that every year reporters ask about the boom in “Golden Girls Housing.”  This form of shared housing receives a great amount of attention, but we'll miss the big picture if we look for big numbers.
For the last few years, I have looked at data from the Current Population Survey (analyzed by the AARP Public Policy Institute) to count households that are all female (or all male) with at least one non-related housemate or roommate, no spouses, and no one under 50 in the home. This is the classic “Golden Girls” formula.  
The result has become familiar: a very small portion of the population lives in a “golden” situation, around one percent.  The small numbers of people in those situations means that it’s hard to figure out whether it has become more popular.  Though the percentage appears to be holding steady, the number of golden…