Elderburbia Explores the Wisdom of Planning for all Generations

Much has been written and debated in regard to planning for elder populations. Experts have theorized on topics from special social service needs to community infrastructure requirements. What we can summarize, however, is that while many livable planning and design principles (walkability, mixed use, affordability, safety and security, public transit, accessibility, etc.) are convenient and beneficial for all ages, they are essential to the health and well-being of aging populations.

The importance of viable community design and interaction in regard to vulnerable populations cannot be made clearer than in the aftermath of tragedy—like the one currently unfolding in Japan—where countless individuals had to make devastating choices in regard to saving disabled and elderly family members. Although a disaster situation is an extreme example, it speaks to the necessity of considering vulnerable populations (the children and the elderly among them) at every step of the planning and design process.

The elderly and infirm must be integrated in a real neighborhood community where they are connected - on a daiy basis - to younger family members, friends or "familiars" who can help them evacuate a burning building, escape from a flood, or survive a heat wave. In his study of the Chicago heat wave of 1995, Eric Klinenberg demonstrated that conditions that caused the extremely high proportion of deaths among poor senior citizens was their social isolation, and the fragmented character of their neighborhoods that lacked both businesses and residents. This is a planning issue.

Phil Stafford writes about the future of planning for elder populations. It’s a timely subject since roughly 10,000 baby boomers reach the age of 65 every day. On his blog, Phil’s Adventures in Elderburbia, Stafford discusses the way that policy, planning, and design can impact aging generations. As the director of the Center on Aging and Community, Indiana Institute on Disability and Community and Adjunct Professor of Anthropology at Indiana University, Stafford has a unique perspective on what makes communities livable for all generations. His latest piece addresses the hurdles that exist including regulations and antiquated planning practices, which for decades have effectively isolated and marginalized the elderly in what Stafford describes as “…homogeneous “Peter Pan” communities that separate the generations and make it virtually impossible to age in place when one no longer drives.”

Stafford writes both eloquently and humorously about the numerous challenges faced by aging populations (from isolation, need for health services, and loss of independence) and the solutions (including design and policy), such as the recently passed Indiana State Senate Bill 23, which will establish the Hoosier Commission for Communities for a Lifetime to help communities keep and attract residents by planning for issues faced by aging citizens.