A strong majority of Americans want to grow old in their cities

Two surveys, one from 2014 and one more recent, suggest many older Americans want to stay put:

But the vast majority of older Americans—more than 70 percent of those over 50, according to a 2014 AARP survey—plan to “age in place,” or stay in their homes or communities. And the desire to stay put persists across urban, suburban, and rural residents—even in Snow Belt cities and among those with the financial resources to buy that condo in Boca or Scottsdale…

Welltower, a company that owns health-care real estate, from retirement communities to outpatient medical office buildings, recently surveyed 3,000 people to find out more about this desire among urbanites to age in place. Respondents were of various ages—Baby Boomers, Generation X, and Millennials—and lived in 10 cities across the country, from Seattle to Houston to Boston. One Canadian city—Toronto—was also included.

The survey showed that 7 out of 10 urbanites still want to live in their city after the age of 80. For Boomers, the share was higher, at 8 out of 10. The result was fairly uniform across the cities. Though some residents ranked their metropolises higher for livability for older residents—Washington, D.C., Miami, and Chicago got the highest marks, while Los Angeles, San Francisco, and New York City received the lowest—all respondents were still largely interested in staying and complimentary of their respective cities…

As CityLab reported earlier this year, this presents numerous challenges, especially for those who want to age in place. Only 1 percent of our housing stock is currently equipped with “universal design” elements that aid older residents, like no-step entrances, single-floor living, and wide halls and doorways. And more older adults also means more lower-income adults, who will struggle to afford the rent or mortgage, let alone modify their living space or employ in-home nursing care.

Three quick thoughts in response:

  1. While we know a lot about residential segregation due to race and class, could we be headed to scenarios where the elderly and younger adults live in very different environments? The two groups could be interested in very different urban features and differ on what amenities they should pay for through taxes. Some of these issues pop up from time to time when proposals are made for senior living facilities or there are requests for more school funding.
  2. What would happen if communities did not respond much to changes that would help the elderly? Would they revolt?
  3. Even though the elderly say they do not want to move, perhaps some cities and suburbs could gain a competitive edge by catering to this group. A neighborhood within a particular city could make changes so that while people would have to move, they would not necessarily have to go far. Or, certain communities could become regional centers for the elderly.

As this article notes, this demographic change is coming within the next few decades and it will be interesting to see how communities react.

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