Old-Age Adaptation: Our Next Great Urban Challenge

Americans are living longer and changing the demographic profiles of our cities in the process. Planners are just beginning to understand how our streets and systems must adapt to accommodate this trend.

1 minute read

June 12, 2013, 5:00 AM PDT

By Jonathan Nettler @nettsj


Did you know that crosswalks timers assume that people walk at about 4 feet per second? Most 80-year-olds don't move at that pace; just one illustration of why most places are "woefully unprepared" for an aging America.

"As Richard Florida reminded us last week, 10,000 baby boomers will turn 65 every day between now and 2031," notes Emily Badger. "By then, one in five people living in America will be older than 65. Crosswalks are only one piece of a deep-rooted problem composed of many subtle environmental details most of us never even notice: Is there a park bench to catch your breath? How about a curb cut for your walker?"

"Cities everywhere need to begin recalibrating for this moment now (a better crosswalk speed, for instance, would be closer to 3 feet per second)," she explains. "But this generational age bomb is also arriving at precisely the worst moment to pay for those changes that will actually cost money. And then there is the problem of imagination: How do you get urban planners, transportation engineers, and anyone running around a city in their prime to picture the places where we live through the shaded eyes of an octogenarian?"

"Age-proofing cities will be a cultural challenge as much as an urban design one."

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