I am part of a large and stable group of people. I used to think a lot like the majority of them do but recently things have begun to shift. I am a “Baby Boomer”. Though not one of the early ones, I am early enough to see our situations may not be as rosy as we once believed them to be.
I am now informed that I may consider myself to be part of the “Geezer Glut”. Eighty-eight million of us who have shaped this country's economy and culture for the last 50 years and then shipped it globally. We did it our way and it was fun, wasn't it?
As Ben Brown put it “We’re in the middle of one of our periodic – and probably our last – reality denial exercises.” With the science and technology that we have developed over our run, can our playtime can extend into infinity (and beyond)? Have we learned nothing from watching our grandparents age and pass on, and then our parents?
Well, some have learned that if we place them in an “age-segregated housing unit” where they can socialize with their peers, we can continue our “active“ lives until it is time for them to go. Remember to visit often and take the kids.
I have posted about this three times over the past 2 years. How we possibly need to rethink the way we have arranged our community so as to accommodate our loved ones. How we may need to look at the legacy of a city that we will leave our children. How we might have been so busy living our “active” life that we misjudged how we will use the deceleration lane.
And I am not alone.
“We suffer from a severe lack of foresight, a shortage of personal and community planning when it comes to where and how to age. We’ve separated our elders from their extended families without replacing what their relatives might once have provided: a decent quality of life, until the very end.”
Linda Selin Davis on The Atlantic Cities blog of October 3
As I have said before, I am reading the book Walkable City and looking to relate what I read to what I know about Lexington. Part of the idea of building a walkable city is to diversify the city life experience for all of residents of a city. It is not just making the roadways capable of accommodating pedestrians, but for pedestrians of all ages and capabilities. It is not about the distance one can walk, whether it be exercise or not, but the ability to use walking as a mode of everyday travel.
What was once a series of neighborhoods, each with their central civic amenities (schools, church, retail...), diverse housing types and not so readily apparent edges, are now expanses of residential sameness separating those now edge defining, civic amenities. Is it so easy to tell where one transitions from Ashland Park to Chevy Chase and yet the jump from Palomar to Beaumont is quite dramatic? The areas which do have a somewhat centralized component of non-residential uses, are of such massive size as to deter all but auto-centric access.
This shortage of personal and community planning, the planning for unaided interpersonal connectivity, has brought on a certain level of isolation. Isolation which the Millienials have recognized and seem to be rejecting. This same isolation will complicate every challenge found in old age as it is designed into the places most American Boomers call home.
Most Boomers will age in neighborhoods that are unlikely to sustain any kind of care network system. That is fine, if you don't need the care or are responsible for one who does. While it is often a complicated endeavor to drive the kids to their daily destinations, what will be the solution for the aged? The presumed connectivity by car will exile anyone without the ability or desire to drive.
The $51 billion industry, which is the “retirement community” movement has a less than stellar reputation, as documented in numerous places, and at this point of our fiscal health may become a less likely option for most. Our home builders and re-modelers can certainly provide scenarios for aging at home. But aging in places that isolate seniors in their homes, regardless of how easy it is to live in, barely scratches the surface of the problem.
What we need are strategies that will allow for "successful" aging in place. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has amassed a lot of research about ways neighborhood design and transportation policy affect community health. Just as we have a concept of “Safe by Design”, can we not dovetail a “Healthy by Design” into the dialogue?
It may be that for so long we have been designing and planning our community for who we are or who is already here and not for who we will become or who we want to come. I am part of the Geezer Glut and we will be part of the future, but we are not the future. We had that chance and I am not so sure that we did a good job.
Now is a time for better thought.