Every day between now and 2030, 10,000 American baby boomers will turn 65. That’s a huge figure, isn’t it? By 2030, one in five people will be at least 65. Two-thirds of this population will live alone by the time they reach 85. Our aging society isn’t simply a possibility, it’s a certainty driven by aging baby boomers—and the rest of us—living longer. This video from Vital Pictures lays it out:
This unprecedented growth in an older adult population means that the face of our communities is changing. The fastest growing cohort is the older than 85 set. Historically, people retired just a few years before the end of life. Now, we are faced with a growing population who are retiring in their mid-60s and living for an average of 15 more years before their end of life. Have you heard the term “silver tsunami”? It’s used to describe the huge upcoming wave of so-called “older adults” that, if it catches us by surprise, could be catastrophic—both for these older adults and for the way our communities function.
Case in point: Chicago was recently ranked as one of the worst cities for retirees. Of 150 cities ranked, Chicago came in 143rd for both affordability and healthcare and 140th for quality of life. Yikes. That’s a startling reminder that the time has come for us to consider how communities can adapt to ensure that this cohort can age gracefully.
Flickr user woodleywonderworks (CC)
Communities aren't prepared for the lifestyles of our rapidly aging population.
Right now, more than 50 percent of older adults live in single family homes in suburban or exurban communities—the ones that were built back in the 1950’s for nuclear families with cars. Many of those homes present issues of accessibility for their aging residents. Twenty percent of the older adults who do drive said that they do so in a limited fashion and feel isolated as a result. The social dynamic of our region’s suburbs will be fundamentally different, with older adults living next door to young families.
There are a number of other issues that communities are likely unprepared to deal with for their rapidly growing senior population. Where will these older adults shop? How will they vote? What will their spending habits be? The answers to those questions affect communities and add up to big regional impacts. How can we start to prepare?
In 2014, The Metropolitan Planning Council (MPC) hosted a roundtable entitled Planning for Aging Communities. This panel featured Jennifer Molinsky, who helped author Harvard’s Housing America’s Older Adults. This discussion built on our Homes for a Changing Region work, where we developed strategic housing plans for clusters of communities in the Chicago region. One of the constant themes of our Homes work was that communities were not prepared to provide housing for older adults who had changing needs and wanted to stay in their communities.
Our roundtable led to MPC partnering with other local organizations to start the Lifetime Communities Collaborative. With AARP as a participant and sponsor, this collaborative is advocating for our region’s communities to become places where people can live and age well. To that end, MPC is cohosting an event where we will delve into how we can prepare for the silver tsunami. In 2016, MPC will help our region prepare for this huge wave of change by doing the following:
- Incorporating planning for older adults into our work,
- Advocating for older adult trends to be addressed by community comprehensive plans,
- Exploring one or two communities as case studies and
- Identifying technical assistance opportunities where older adult advocacy is appropriate.
We hope you can join us for this upcoming discussion about making communities more livable for people, young and old. As the collaborative grows, MPC will be leading the charge for pragmatic policies that suit our changing society. Perhaps we can turn this challenge into an opportunity to develop groundbreaking and creative policies for the benefit of our region’s maturing communities.