A majority of seniors indicate they want to live longer and to have the option of aging in place. In fact, most seniors say they want to live to be 100 years old! With today’s growing global population and higher life expectancy, that goal could be reached more easily than in the past, but only when aging in place becomes a higher priority. Studies show that aging in place improves quality and length of life, so what are some ways that local communities can help facilitate this societal responsibility of granting better access to the tools seniors need to reach their goals?
Current Findings on Community Potential
The Urban Institute follows zoning codes and has developed an age-friendly model to connect aging individuals to the community in a greater capacity. They have found that current zoning codes are failing our senior citizens by restricting the amount of practical permits for higher-density developments. That means permits are less likely to be granted for multi-family structures, assisted living, and even in-law suite additions within city limits. They found that regulations on a local level were restricting these types of permits and causing unintended repercussions.
…because of the burden now placed on the consequences of seniors not having the access they need to necessary goods and services
Working with the Stanford Center on Longevity and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, they found that these regulatory restrictions were costing the United States around 9.5 percent in our GDP within high-productivity cities. This is because of the burden now placed on the consequences of seniors not having the access they need to necessary goods and services and thereby limiting their ability to remain independent. Senior citizens who are not able to remain independent require more government assistance and have greater healthcare requirements, costing communities more in the long run.
Solutions to Community Promoted Aging in Place
If age-friendly zoning codes could be adopted in more cities across the nation, more affordable transportation and housing options could be developed. It would be as if smaller communities could arise that would allow for a greater connectivity between homes and grocery stores, parks and medical offices, and libraries. By adopting age friendly zoning codes, our seniors will have more options when it comes to safely aging in place.
Also included in the newly designed zoning codes would be a referendum on infrastructure within existing city communities. A few of these cities have already begun to implement the changes such as:
- Smaller neighborhood blocks
- Accessible ramps around the community
- Better signage
- Greater regulated traffic
- Buffer between roads and walkways
- Ample street lighting
- Protected bike lanes
- Nature trails
- Numerous benches for resting
- Handicapped accessible public restrooms
- Shaded areas and more…
These changes are already having a high record of success with the Atlanta Regional Commission (ARC), the Area Agency on Aging for Georgia. They are referring to them as Lifelong Communities. ARC is now expanding their program due to the high need and high positive impact seniors and their families are placing on the regional model. They have now contracted with ten county-based aging programs and thirteen specialized agencies.
The Purpose of Communities
When you look at what a community is and what its intended purpose is, you will find that a community should be a place where people living in it have the ability to be able to remain and live healthy lives there. There is a high need for communities to become more inclusive of the seniors living within them. We have playgrounds for children, festivals for youth, and generally greater resources for more able-bodied adults. Other cultures have a greater proclivity toward their parents and grandparents moving in with them. As our society doesn’t adopt this practice as much, we need another option.
Healthier lifestyles, more affordable housing options, as well as better transportation can all be accomplished with modified age-friendly zoning laws. We have a responsibility to take care of those who have taken care of us, and we can do so by redesigning the way our communities are structured.
Atlanta Regional Commission (ARC). Lifelong Communities: A Framework for Planning. Available at http://www.atlantaregional.com/aging-resources/lifelong-communities. Last Visited March 13, 2016.
McGinty, John and Blumenthal, Pamela. (2015). This Affordable Old House: How Zoning Can Help Seniors Age in Place. Urban Wire: Aging. Urban Institute. Available at http://www.urban.org/urban-wire/affordable-old-house-how-zoning-can-help-seniors-age-place?utm_source=iContact&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Housing%20Finance%20Update&utm_content=HFPC+Update+-+11%2F18%2F2015. Last Visited March 13, 2016.