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Becoming an Age-Friendly Community

By Dean Whittaker

In this article, I would like to share with you a few thoughts about the why, how, and what of becoming an age-friendly community. First, what does it mean to be age-friendly? Age-friendly means to be sensitive to the needs of people of all ages, especially older adults and young people.

There are 10,000 baby boomers eligible to retire (turning 62 years of age) every day for the next two decades. There are 78 million of us born between 1946 and 1964. There is a huge market of people with changing needs. We also bring a wealth of experience, expertise, 401K funds, pensions, social security payments, and more. Active older adults are engaged in civic affairs, vote, and participate in community conversations.

Look around your organization. What percentage of your co-workers will retire in the next 3-5 years unless they choose to continue working? My guess is 50%. Generation X is a much smaller demographic group and will unlikely be able to fill all of the positions about to be vacated. Fortunately, artificial intelligence and robots may step in to fill this void.

So, what are us baby-boomers looking for in a place to live? Top of the list is affordability. Low cost of living that includes housing and property tax. We want to live an active lifestyle that will require transportation, communication, and participation in social activities. What does your built environment contain in the way of parks, trails, bike paths, and a good library? How open and accepting is your community to newcomers?

How well does your community communicate? Is there high-speed broadband service available? Are there educational opportunities through a local college or university? Health care is a major concern as we age. Are your medical services prepared for this influx of baby boomers?

What can a community do to become an age-friendly place? First, it can take a self-assessment. With a group of community-minded citizens, rank yourself on a scale of 1-10 on the following factors: housing, transportation, outdoor spaces, healthcare services, communications, civic participation, employment opportunities, and social/civic inclusion.

Now, take your composite rankings for each, identify your strengths and your areas for improvement. Next, develop a marketing effort (including your website) to promote your strengths and develop an improvement plan for those areas that were rated lower. These are a few ideas of what you can to do to become an age-friendly community. Happy aging!

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  • Kimberly Maevers

    Dean, this is a great topic to start the discussion with many municipal planners, land developers and home builders! Back in the 90’s, I was employed by the Home Builders Assn. and we were speaking with builders then about the concept of Aging In Place housing…specifically, designing homes and communities in a way that as the population aged, we would not be forced to move from our homes for accessibility or accommodation reasons. It is a concept that has yet to garner support, even twenty plus years later…now, we’re that much older! I hope your spark will ignite the discussion among our peers in EcoDevo.