There’s an initiative afoot to make conscious changes in towns and cities so they better fit the needs of their older populations. Amazingly, by 2050 more than 60% of the world’s major cities will be over the age of 65.
In light of our extended longevity, activist gerontologist Dr. Bill Thomas calls the stage of life after adulthood, Elderhood, and applauds its rich potential. Average life span in the U.S continues to increase. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, by 2050 the number of Americans aged 65 and older is projected to be 88.5 million, more than double its population of 40.2 million in 2010. More than half of those born since 2000 are expected to live to 100 or more.
Time is of the essence, for the issues that confront cities today effect the well-being of older citizens everywhere. Frequently identified problems area limited adequate affordable housing, constricting transportation options, sparse social opportunities, and minimal access to community culture and amenities.
Age UK, a British organization, in conjunction with the U.N. World Health Organization (WHO), has launched an international Age Friendly Cities initiative. Dr. James Goodwin, head of research for Age UK announced that Santa Clara County in Northern California is the first to have all fifteen of its cities sign aboard this initiative; each city assessing needs and making its own plans for appropriate improvements.
A great concern is isolation and loneliness. According to Dr. Goodwin, feeling lonely more than 2/3 of the time is as detrimental to one’s health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. Encouraging social connections is critical for health and well-being.
Age friendly cities work to enhance infrastructure and services so older citizens can continue to participate in their communities. Dr. Goodwin envisions walkable environments, with curb cuts to eliminate steps, seating along streets and roads for those who need rest breaks, and availability of handy public restrooms.These would encourage people to get out and walk more, providing exercise and more social encounters for improved physical and mental health.
Some cities have created pop-up social groups, and encourage volunteer drivers to help people get to community events and activities…like volunteering.
Affordable housing options would expand. An new innovation by Dr. Bill Thomas, is a design called Minka homes – small, units, easily assembled with prefabricated parts that fit together LEGO-style. These could be arranged in planned communities as in the experimental prototype soon be constructed on the campus of Southern Illinois University.
Look around your community. Let your city council know about what’s missing, and encourage them to join this movement. Involvement in the Age Friendly Cities initiative takes the will of a city council and the signature of the mayor.
Age UK can help with some guidance.
To learn more about this, listen to the podcast of
Dr. Goodwin’s presentation to the San Francisco Commonwealth Club, July 14, 2017. Just type Age-Friendly Cities and the Future of Aging into the search box at commonwealthclub.org, and think about your town.
We elders are a powerful force and can have an impact, even lead the changes we want to see happen. Let us know here at 70Candles.com what your community looks like for older adults.
What do you think needs changing in your area to improve life there for you and other older citizens?
Jane and Ellen