The “Greying” of Round Lake Beach: Are we ready?

(More than 13 percent of the US population is over 65, and by 2030, that figure will be 20 percent. Many of those Baby Boomers plan to “Age In Place“, and many others will move… to smaller houses or multifamily buildings but within the same town. With the changes in healthcare and lifestyle, they are living better and longer than their predecessors. Is RLB ready now for this shift in demographics… will we be ready THEN?)

“Two generations of older adults aged 65 and above now occupy our suburban settlements—especially in our “first tier” or inner suburbs, those built just before World War II, and during the rapid suburban growth of the 1950s and early 1960s.  Our suburbs will become home to yet another generation of older adults when the oldest baby boomers begin to celebrate their 65th birthdays.”

More of today’s seniors are active and involved in their communities, many continuing to work past their retirement. As they age, they are choosing to do so in their homes while also retaining priceless relationships with nearby family and friends.

“Ongoing survey results from AARP conclude that most older adults are satisfied with where they live and prefer not to move. They feel emotionally attached to their residential settings and treat both their dwellings and their personal possessions as archeological evidence of their memorable past lives. Because they are longtime occupants, they typically have a well-established social network, know how to navigate their communities, and are reluctant to pick up stakes and start new lives in unfamiliar places.”

From their homes, they like to walk, ride bicycles, have easy access to parks and markets, and many will seek mixed-use places. The nation will need more active-living, and more complete, communities to accommodate this massive demographic shift. That probably means a Walk Score of at least 70, in a safe neighborhood, ideally with access to transit.

“Epidemiologists are reporting a link between suburban living and physical health. They find that older people walk less frequently when they live in lower density neighborhoods that are more distant from shopping, restaurants, and other services. They also get out less when their neighborhoods have social disorders such as poverty, intimidating strangers, and crime. Absent or poorly designed and maintained sidewalks (e.g., uneven or interrupted walkways, poor street lighting, absent benches, dangerous crossings, and hilly terrains) also limit their mobility as pedestrians. Additionally, they find that older people with more limited walking opportunities are at greater risk of being obese.”

As attractive as the idea of aging in place may be, progress in this direction has been slow and uneven. Towns and cities that have been built for “Automobiles First and Forever!” are not very friendly to older residents, especially those who can no longer drive. Downtowns are often not very accessible; public transit is spotty or nonexistent in many cities, and sidewalks are an after-thought.

With the poor economy, families are again moving the generations back together (which used to be the “norm”, and was a primary way civilization and culture were passed down from generation-to-generation) so “grandma can watch the kids” while mom and dad work outside of the house. Our newer homes are NOT multi-generationally friendly, being designed for healthy families with healthy kids: few with 1st-floor bedrooms & full bathrooms, not designed with expansion in mind, often multiple interior levels with extra steps, vanities which cannot accomodate wheelchairs (or even “walkers”), and of course they’re not convenient to “Main Street” where able-bodied seniors could walk or bike to the cafe, barber shop, coffee shop, market, or a volunteer opportunity.

Likewise, our older housing (much of which was not designed for year-round living) is poorly insulated, has ancient heating and cooling equipment, often not up to modern codes for safety, and lacks sidewalks.

We also limit our options by having very little housing which could become “co-housing” for seniors, typically larger homes which are divided up into apartments. Our Park District’s program for seniors isn’t even in our village, the largest in the Round Lake area.

So, how are we doing? Does our 2009 Comprehensive Land Use Plan address making effective use of the remaining buildable land to enhance connectivity and access, or in-filling existing properties to improve their function? Are the Building Codes being reviewed to make it easier to modify structures? It’s nice to have the new Oak Hill Senior Supportive Living Center in town (conveniently next door to “Advance Auto Parts” and “Thornton’s“), but what of all the seniors with small paid-for homes that don’t want to cash-out and move-out to use it? Are our social-service agencies and community/church groups ready for more seniors and their needs?

Ironically, the factors which make a municipality more senior-friendly benefit EVERYONE over the long-term, no matter how good or bad the economy is doing!

Link: Aging in the American Suburbs: A Changing Population
Link: Great Ideas for Senior-Friendly Communities

This entry was posted in Economics, Planning, Seniors. Bookmark the permalink.

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