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Age-Forward Cities for 2030: The Big Challenge

What some metros are doing and what so many more could do


By 2030, roughly three of every five people on the planet will live in cities. How prepared are cities to serve their older residents? Based on a report released today, Age-Forward Cities for 2030, the answer seems to be: not very.

But, according to the report’s authors, Nora Super and Caroline Servat at the Milken Institute Center for the Future of Aging, a few large and small U.S. cities get it and have launched practical initiatives to become more age-friendly. They include New York City, Los Angeles, Pittsburgh, West Sacramento, Calif., Louisville, Kansas City, Mo., Washington, D.C., Chicago and Tampa, Fla.

“We’ve seen some progress, but many cities aren’t paying attention to aging,” said Super, senior director of the Milken Institute Center for the Future of Aging. Successful aging in America’s cities has been a major focus for the Center for the Future of Aging in recent years.

Added Servat, the Center’s associate director: “We found mayors rarely mentioned older adults in connection with the economic growth of their communities. That’s a missed opportunity.”

Already, eight in 10 U.S. residents 65 and older live in metropolitan areas; the Milken Institute Center for the Future of Aging calls cities “ground zero for the demographic shift.”

Why Aren’t There More Age-Forward Cities?

Why are so few cities and their leaders working to be age-forward? As my earlier article on the paucity of age-friendly cities noted, it typically doesn’t seem urgent to them. “Population aging is a slow moving challenge,” said Servat.

The Center’s challenge to cities and their leaders: getting them to move aging to the top of their policy agendas.

Becoming age-forward isn’t just a nice idea for cities and their older residents. It’s a necessity.

Already, eight in 10 U.S. residents 65 and older live in metropolitan areas; the Milken Institute Center for the Future of Aging calls cities “ground zero for the demographic shift.” But, the report says, “realizing the benefits of an older population — while addressing the difficulties and realities — will be one of the great human challenges of the 21st century.”

The urgency of becoming age-forward is why the Milken Institute Center for the Future of Aging made 2030 a goal for cities. “We see this as a call for action to invest in solutions to employ the human and social capital of older adults,” noted Servat.

Key Priorities According to Urban Experts

For its report, the Milken Institute Center for the Future of Aging asked 146 experts on aging, public health, urban planning and related issues to rank in importance age-forward priorities and strategies. Among their conclusions:

  • The most critical policy intervention for city leaders to better prepare for the future of aging by 2030: housing that is safe and affordable.
  • The best ways to shape employment opportunities for older people: flexible work arrangements, skills training and broader access to employment programs.
  • The economic development strategy most critical to address the challenges of population aging in cities: expanding age-friendly commercial districts and housing developments.
  • The home-health and home-care field is unlikely to find enough workers to fill the coming need by 2030.

What Some Age-Forward Cities Are Doing

A few examples of age-forward cities featured in the report, and insights shared exclusively with Next Avenue by some of their initiatives’ leaders:

Los Angeles: The city and county have embarked on an ambitious regional Purposeful Aging project to make the area the “best place to grow old in the world,” said Laura Trejo, general manager of the Los Angeles Department of Aging. It will include more affordable and accessible transportation; safer streets and sidewalks; preparing the health care industry’s workforce for the aging population; prevention and responses to wandering among people with dementia.

Washington, D.C.: Its seven-year-old Age-Friendly DC initiative includes a Safe-at-Home program with home adaptation grants to help residents age in place; zoning revisions allowing Accessory Dwelling Units (where, say, parents can live in small homes on the property of their adult children); construction of more than 500 units of below-market-rate housing for older residents including ones for those raising grandchildren.

Tampa, Fla.: The city is partnering with the Florida Department of Health create the nation’s first Age-Friendly Public Health System. “As the state with the largest proportion of older adults, it is no wonder that Florida was selected to pilot” that initiative,” said South Florida gerontologist Kathy Black.

And Tampa is working with Humana to test out the Miami-based “Grandkids on-demand” startup, Papa, pairing young adults with Medicare beneficiaries to help with household tasks.

Kansas City, Mo.: The older adult population is growing faster than any age group here, but Kansas City is losing boomers and pre-retirees. So, the Mid-America Regional Council has been working on ways to make the metro more age-friendly, including applying an “age-lens” to city, parks and strategic plans. “Older adults still have a lot to contribute as workers and volunteers,” said Cathy Boyer-Shesol, project manager for KC Communities for All Ages of the Mid-America Regional Council.

The BoomTown Idea for Intergenerational Neighborhoods

The report also featured the Gensler Research Institute’s “BoomTown” holistic, intergenerational communities model, showing how the Macarthur Park and Ivy City neighborhoods of Los Angeles and Washington, D.C., respectively, could be transformed to support all age groups.

The D.C. proposal, for instance, would create hubs for health care, work, public space, residences and education; improve transportation for access to hospitals, colleges and recreation; and provide affordable housing embracing inclusivity and diversity.

Tama Duffy Day, a principal at the Gensler architectural firm, told me “at the moment there is no plan for these ideas to become reality,” but that her firm would “welcome any opportunities to expand our thinking into any community and/or neighborhood.

Of course, money can help make a city age-forward. But, the Milken Institute researchers found, serving older residents requires more than that.

“It doesn’t just take capital. It takes an all-hands-on-deck approach,” said Servat. “The first step is for cities to realize there is value in approaching their aging population as part of the solution to the many challenges they’re already looking it.”

Age-Friendly Health Care Is Essential, Too

A key part of a city being “age-forward” is its health care infrastructure and offerings — often less-than-satisfactory for people over 50, who have unique and frequently complex health needs that require frequent and coordinated attention.

Throughout 2019, we’re taking a deep look at health care in America to understand when, how and where it is and isn’t “age friendly.”

We’re highlighting these issues and solutions paired with essential advice here in this Next Avenue series.

RIchard Eisenberg, editor at Next Avenue wearing a suit jacket in front of a teal background.
By Richard Eisenberg
Richard Eisenberg is the Senior Web Editor of the Money & Security and Work & Purpose channels of Next Avenue and Managing Editor for the site. He is the author of How to Avoid a Mid-Life Financial Crisis and has been a personal finance editor at Money, Yahoo, Good Housekeeping, and CBS MoneyWatch. Follow him on Twitter.

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