Nav Search

Weekly Trend: How the Aging Population Will Shape the Latest Urban Landscape

Cities are commonly associated with fast-paced environments where innovation and technology create lifestyles of convenience. Improvements to city infrastructure more often than not focus on bettering the lives of the young professionals and families living there. But, with the population of senior citizens growing faster than ever, it may be time to take a step back and ask innovators and entrepreneurs to focus on changes to city infrastructure that address issues relevant to the elderly.

As populations age, the cities that house them need to do just the opposite. With the country’s 85-plus age group set to triple by 2030, it is apparent that cities need to become more elderly-friendly in order to create a safe and practical environment that is not solely focused on the younger population. City planners are faced with a unique set of problems that need to be addressed in order to properly accommodate the aging baby boomer generation.

Baby boomers are beginning to retire and with advances in healthcare, these retirees are living longer and more active lives than their predecessors did. Similarly, boomers are not venturing to Arizona and Florida as they used to; instead, they’re choosing to retire where they have always lived: in cities across the United States. Because the aging population no longer flocks to elderly-friendly communities, entrepreneurs need to create new plans, new designs and new ideas for city infrastructure and development in order to cater to this growing community.

What kind of issues do innovators need to focus on with the elderly in mind? Wider, more even sidewalks, additional public seating and lower curb heights are just a few ways cities can accommodate their aging populations. Daunting public transportation systems also present a problem for seniors, as many of these people stop driving and look for other methods to move around cities. As new technologies are introduced and integrated into public transportation systems, including new fare cards and transportation apps, seniors must learn how to utilize these additions to the transit systems in order to maintain a mobile lifestyle.

These types of issues do not cease to exist once you leave the street. Buildings and homes also must change in order to meet the aging population’s needs. Handicap-accessible entrances, fewer stairs, more conveniently located drug stores, grocery stores and perhaps even “adult daycare” centers are all examples of ways communities can make life for seniors in cities a more viable option.

Some cities are leading the way in implementing plans to create more elderly-centric urban environments. In Westchester County, N.Y., officials have been helping seniors sign up for fare cards and teaching them how to use the bus. In Arlington County, Virginia, transit services now offers a door-to-door option for the disabled. Even street signs are appearing with larger print, making them easier to read for older people with worsening vision. Many cities have also been focusing on improving biking infrastructure, a change that gives the elderly new opportunities to maintain their mobile lifestyles, even if they no longer drive.

Why are these changes so important? Enabling seniors to better traverse the city landscape can significantly increase their quality of life. Having the ability to travel to and from various locations independently allows seniors to better engage in community activities, sustain relationships and live more social lives. With fewer young workers and the increasing elderly population, it is imperative that older people maintain their health and independence. Changes to cityscapes that enable seniors to do so will consequently allow the aging population to better enjoy their later years.

We all inevitably age and it is important to note the ways in which cities will need to change in order to create elderly-friendly living environments. Collaboration will be key to reshaping cities. We may see entrepreneurs partnering with city governments as they look at the lives of senior citizens as inspiration for new infrastructure.  As new and innovative plans to create more elderly-centric cities come to fruition, we can expect to see a lot of change in our cities—from smaller steps up to the bus to larger sidewalk widths, these alterations will come in all shapes and sizes.

Carolyn Peyser

Carolyn is a senior at Tufts University majoring in Sociology and minoring in Communications and Media Studies.