Joe Urban | Sam Newberg, Urbanist

Aging With Place

Dateline: 4:28 pm April 5, 2019 Filed under:

While grocery shopping last week I witnessed a person roughly my age helping her mother shop. I couldn’t immediately identify her mother’s ailment or reason for needing help, and little did I know I’d be doing the same thing for my own mother this week following her eye surgery. The “silver tsunami” is rapidly approaching for many of us in the sandwich generation, and I’m only beginning to understand the direct implications.

Demand for walkable neighborhoods for seniors is about to go way up

For the first time in world history, there are more people on planet earth age 65 and over than there are children under 5, as discussed in a recent World Economic Forum article. With that comes a fear, well reasoned, that countries that don’t produce enough young workers to replace those retiring will suffer economically. Fair enough, but I’m more concerned about issues closer to home: how people’s lives are affected when they can no longer drive.

Articles like this one in Curbed look at emerging senior housing trends for those who want to live in an urban setting; i.e., who have the means to choose where to live. This week’s report from Colliers is evidence that there is no shortage of major real estate developers and investors looking at this issue, but the Curbed article also mentions the shortage of affordable senior housing nationwide. Developers in the Twin Cities, for example, like Real Estate Equities, are adding affordable senior options like the 172-unit The Winslow in 2019. However, this won’t solve the housing shortage for seniors. More supply and creative solutions are needed.

Back to the issue of transportation. The oldest baby boomers have crossed the 70-year old threshold, and this generation was the first to live essentially their entire lives in a car-dependent society. To most, driving is essential, and my observation is a precious few have appropriate resources to deal with the eventuality of not being able to drive. A somewhat routine eye surgery like my mother’s, for example, changes everything about quality of life, even as simple as groceries. I’ve written about walkable grocery stores previously, and it’s a big deal! It’s also wonderful to see new developments near me like Lowa46 with a ground floor grocery store.

Take away the option to drive and your choices are to rely on a spouse, family member or friend for a ride, even for routine things like groceries. Luckily now there are ride sharing services and grocery delivery, but the loss of independence is depressing. I also don’t think dial-a-ride services like Metro Mobility are prepared for future demand. Of course, you can move to a more walkable location, but most people I know don’t have their belongings packed, estate sale complete, and home listed when their retina detaches or the stroke occurs.

This is all to say that most of us are unprepared for the “silver tsunami,” both those of us in it and those of us expected to plan for it and build it. The Colliers report does mention these problems and potential solutions, but we in the real estate and placemaking community have only begun to wrap our collective heads around what to do. I suspect that overall we’ll have to adjust our expectations downward and accept that caring for the elderly is part of the responsibility of an extended family, as was the case in human history until very recently. The silver lining of this silver tsunami is, for developers of walkable senior housing options, demand will likely always outpace supply.

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