In August, I wrote about the need for downtowns to prepare for an influx of aging baby boomers – who “now want to exchange the hassles of suburban life for the smaller scale and convenient amenities available in pedestrian-friendly cities.”
Now comes the Wall Street Journal with a Sept. 19 special report on suburban towns’ rush to become more accommodating to an aging population. “That sense of urgency is understandable,” said the journal, “The nation’s sprawling suburbs – home to as much as half of the U.S. population and more than 30 million people age 55-plus – may have been a good place to grow up. But the suburbs are proving a tough place to grow old.”
This change in living patterns offers the opportunities for cities to transform themselves, but first they must provide what these baby boomers now want – pedestrian-oriented streets and greenways, parks, and condominiums in the place of large-lot, single-family homes.
Keep in mind that living on a smaller scale is not just about saving money and reducing energy consumption and greenhouse gases.
“Maintaining yards and homes requires more effort; driving everywhere, and for everything, becomes expensive and, eventually, impossible,” the Journal reported. “(Research shows that men and women who reach their 70s, on average, outlive their ability to drive by six and 10 years, respectively.)”
In my earlier post, I quoted Christopher B. Leinberger, professor of urban planning at the University of Michigan. Writing in The Atlantic magazine, he reported that families with children once made up more than half of all households. Now they represent less than a third of the households and by 2025, only about one in four households will be families with children.
“For 60 years,” wrote Leinberger, “Americans have pushed steadily into the suburbs, transforming the landscape and (until recently) leaving cities behind. But today the pendulum is swinging back toward urban living, and there are many reasons to believe this swing will continue.“