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How should towns deal with an aging population?

In towns and suburbs around the country, local governments are facing an issue that has been a long time coming. Their populations are getting older.

According to the Brookings Institution, in the suburbs – the small to large towns that encircle large cities – the growth of the senior citizen population has increased more than the growth of the under-35 population, which means you, by a ratio of 4-1. So for every child born in the suburbs, four people turn 65. And demographers, people who make predictions based on census data, say that by 2030, twenty percent of the population in suburban and rural America will be senior citizens.

This means quite a lot for towns, which have to adapt to populations that require more health services, such as hospitals, and often cannot drive or are at least less mobile than younger populations.

The single-family homes that dominate the residential landscape in the suburbs, often two stories with large lawns that require lots of maintenance, are becoming more of a burden than a luxury.

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is an executive agency that is responsible for providing services to those who need special assistance with health issues. The Department of Transportation, another executive agency, has begun to develop public transportation models for towns to adopt that can be funded by the president’s Infrastructure and Investment Program.
How towns look at transportation also has to change. The car was once the sole form of transportation for suburban residents, giving them the freedom to move as they please across sprawling towns and cities. As they age, their ability to drive begins to wane, and now cities have to develop public transit systems to get the older residents around.

“I think we have a dawning sort of realization that we are going to be very much older than we have ever been before, but I don’t really think we appreciate what that change means,” said Gayle Kvenvold, president of Aging Services of Minnesota. “We have built suburbs with three-car garages but no sidewalks, so what do you do if you don’t drive and you have to walk in the street to get to a grocery store?”

Roseville, Minn., a suburb of Minneapolis-St. Paul that has an aging population, has developed plans to help reconfigure a town that was not designed for senior citizens. For example, as the younger population shrinks, the need for schools drops, and some schools are closed. In Roseville, part of a high school that wasn’t being used was turned into a senior center. Towns have begun to allow construction of apartment buildings for seniors that are close to public transportation. But these changes do not come free, and with town and state budgets strapped for cash, not every city can afford to develop plans to address the issues of an aging population.

What do you think?

How should towns adapt to aging populations? How can towns that were designed for younger populations redesign themselves for an older citizenry? Should this be a priority for towns facing budget shortfalls? Join the discussion and let us know what you think!
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Comments
2/16/2011

Erlind M.
Mr. Frank/NEHS, Philadelphia
From my point of view this is not a difficult problem to solve for the government. In fact this is an interesting problem. It is interesting because by trying to solve this problem, the government also will solve another problem that is present today. The method that the government should use to solve the problem is by opening jobs in those towns, rural areas that have more older population. By opening jobs ,the government, will pull the unemployed young people or new graduates into those areas that have more older people. Since the young people will get jobs in those areas, chances are that most of them will settle and create a family there. This way the younger population will increase. So I think that this is the best way for government to use solve not one, but two problems at the same time.

Related News
1/28/2011
Graying in the suburbs
Need to Know

6/12/2007
Suburbs Are Graying Faster Than Big Cities
The New York Times

1/1/2003
Boomers and Seniors in the Suburbs
The Brookings Institution

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