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.


Popular posts from this blog

Rethinking the Value of Diversity after the End of Race-Based Admissions Decisions

The recent Supreme Court decision in Students for Fair Admissions, Inc. v. President and Fellows of Harvard College has sparked great discourse in the week since the decision, and in particular, fear amongst those who worry about losing a key tool to fight the legacy of discrimination and the continuing disadvantages that impact people of color in the US. In its decision, the Court’s majority ruled that admissions policies at Harvard and the University of North Carolina violated the Equal Protection clause of the 14th Amendment. While a range of others, including Justices Jackson and Sotomayor, have laid out dissents and critiques of the decision, I have seen little discussion of the path forward for those who seek to ensure that more people from families and communities that have been impacted by racial prejudice over the nation’s history can benefit from a college education in the future.    You will read a different perspective here, building from experiences at four different univ

What Is a Livable Community, and How Do We Measure One?

Today, I kicked off AARP Public Policy Institute 's Livability Index project with a blog and two papers on new project webpage: bi.tly/LivIndex .  The PPI blog, " What Is a Livable Community, and How Do We Measure One? " introduces the project to the world. You may have wondered why I haven't been writing as much lately, and this project is what has been keeping me busy recently. In a way, this has been keeping me busy for years.

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 Girls   means 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, th