Since the end of the Second World War, one of the biggest agents for social change has been the “Boomer” generation, those born in the postwar years who thanks to a spike in birth rates in those years represent a disproportionate amount of the population. But as this group ages, what will their effect on our cities be? In this article, originally published by Metropolis Magazine as “How Boomers Will Shape the Future of Our Cities,” principle at CannonDesign Peter Ellis outlines what his generation will need from the places they live as they get older.
I am an architect, and a designer of cities. I am also among the Boomer generation, the 65-year-plus demographic that, due to our increasing numbers, is creating a giant bubble at the upper end of the population charts.
We are not, however, aging like the generations that preceded us. “We will be able to give many people an extra decade of good health, based on what we are able to do in the lab now,” says Brian Kennedy, President and CEO of the Buck Institute for Research on Aging in Novato, California. The primary triggers for most disease can be controlled, enabling people to remain productive well into their eighties, nineties, and beyond.
How will this “revolution” in human longevity impact our cities? Unlike our parents, Boomers have not moved to retirement communities, preferring, rather, to stay as long as they are able in their urban neighborhoods—where they can continue to lead active lives.
In recent years there has been a lot of talk in the United States about our aging population, mostly in terms of social security funds and medicare. We have asked how we should deal with the impending problem that our elderly will outnumber the population that will serve as their caretakers. While speculations for a solution have generally settled within the realm of the economy, urban planners and architects are asking a different set of questions and looking for solutions regarding how we design. It is important to note, that while most of the discussion has been framed about the aging “baby-boomer” generation, Jack Rowe – speaking at the symposium for Designing Homes and Neighborhoods for an Aging Population in Washington, DC - pointed out that this concern is a conservative estimate of the bigger problem in our “demographic transformation”. In fact, the trend is far more expansive; medical advancements and a longer life expectancy mean that for the next few generations each aging population is expected to outlive its parents and will exceed the population of its children. This makes the issue at hand a more over-arching concern, or as Rowe later states, an issue that all members of society must face.
This is why we must think about architecture and urban planning in terms of adaptability for the aging, as we have already starting thinking about it in terms of handicapped accessibility.
More after the break…