Why are a few communities, like New York and Portland, Ore., working to become more age-friendly for their residents but so many others aren’t? Is it due to political leadership and canniness (or a lack of it)? Do the age of the residents, the workforce and the local customers have an effect? Does it come down to whether there’s money in a city’s budget?
- There are only 60 U.S. communities in the AARP Network of Age-Friendly Communities
- Mayors in just 136 of the nation’s 19,000 cities signed the Milken Institute’s 2014 Best Cities for Successful Aging Mayor’s Pledge, “committing to make their cities work better for older adults and to enable older adults to strengthen their cities and improve lives for all generations through purposeful work and volunteerism”
- The World Health Organization’s (WHO) Global Age-friendly Cities and Communities list has merely 258 cities and communities in 30 countries around the world
- The National League of Cities 2015: State of the Cities Report is silent about efforts to make cities more age-friendly
Aging Nation, But Few Age-Friendly Communities
Clearly, there aren’t many age-friendly places at a time when the United States is looking at a doubling of its older population in the next 20 to 25 years. The Milken Institute’s Successful Aging report said overall progress “remains too slow” fostering age-friendly policies and practices in the U.S.
“The aging community is at fault as much as anyone,” says John Feather, Chief Executive Officer of Grantmakers in Aging, whose Community AGEnda Initiative with the Pfizer Foundation has made over $4 million in grants to five age-friendly projects in Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Indiana and the greater Kansas City area. “We have not done enough to make clear that aging is not about old people. If we make it about the frail old, we are not going to be successful to get age-friendly communities and will never get the political will,” notes Feather.
Lisa Warth, who oversees WHO’s Global Network of Age-friendly Cities and Communities, looks to the communities themselves. “Cities and communities, their infrastructures and services are still predominantly oriented at the needs and schedules of the able-bodied working population,” she told me “and are only slowly adapting to the diverse capacities, realities, needs and preferences of their residents.”
Paul Irving, Chairman for the Future of Aging at the Milken Institute, says some cities “benefit by a collection of infrastructure characteristics” that make them more age-friendly than others, such as a vibrant mass transit system. But, Irving adds, “I think a lot of it has to do with leadership.”