Guest Column: Inner Ring Suburbs Built for Baby Boomers

Guest Column: Inner Ring Suburbs Built for Baby BoomersNew Harvest Homes NHH

(Sarah Hoerl, orig. published on Michigan Suburbs Alliance blog, May 7, 2013)

Our most recent Mayors and Managers forum was inspired by a discussion with the City of Madison Heights. They were in the midst of a master plan review and hoped to find new ways to incorporate the needs of their large baby boomer populations over the next 20 years.

This pattern is common throughout the region—many of our inner ring cities are well-established, built-out, auto-centric communities with an abundance of single-family homes, characteristics that suited new families when the Baby Boomer generation were children but that are less ideal as their generation retires.

It was exciting to bring this question before such a diverse audience for the first of our 2013 Mayors and Managers forums. Our event, Built for Boomers: Age-Friendly Planning for Metro Detroit brought together people with a variety of experiences, backgrounds and expertise who shared anmassage interest in creating communities that engage and support citizens of all ages. The event provided an excellent, safe and friendly space to share ideas and discuss ways our cities can prepare for the future.

Together, we discovered that while many government officials, city planners, and development organizations have focused much attention on talent retention and the millennial generation, it turns out that people of all ages want similar things from their communities: convenient transportation and accessible amenities. Our speakers highlighted some of the trends facing the region and offered ideas on how cities could be ready to face their changing demographics.

Age-Friendly Communities vs. Aging in Place
“Aging in place can be a good thing—if you’re in the right place,” noted Jonathan Levine, Professor of Urban Planning at the University of Michigan. The “aging in place” concept can be difficult to address in communities that were not designed for aging people, and focused instead on auto-centricmodern tax road design and single-family housing. We have the framework to create age-friendly communities, but relocating to these places can mean moving far away from family, friends and familiar surroundings. He suggested taking an “aging in community” approach that may provide the best of both worlds: offering a variety of housing options with short distances to services and amenities that are attractive to all ages.

Advocate Accommodating Change
Stephen Hopkins, Vice President of Wellness and Home Based Solutions at Evangelical Homes of Michigan noted how our country’s economic profile has changed the landscape of building and housing options, and it’s becoming more difficult to finance and build large new developments like retirement communities. “What once may have taken $20 million to complete a project now takes $80 million,” he said, and with the projected rate of population growth ages 70 and over, “we can’t build sidebar02treesour way out of it.” With no way to tackle the increase in older adult population with existing infrastructure, we must investigate new ideas and reinvent the way our communities function. On the plus side, he pointed out that traditional retirement facilities will be just one option in a “menu of options” available to older adults for finding housing, health care and service solutions that work well for them.

Engagement: Educate, Employ and Empower
When we adopt changes to make cities more attractive to citizens of all ages, we must not forget to get community input and keep our older adults engaged. “Go to where people are comfortable, establish a relationship,” said panelist Megan Masson-Minock, Planner at ENP & Associates. This can mean a lot of effort on the city and planners’ part—many older adults prefer in-person meetings rather than social media and internet outlets, and some may have a difficult time driving at night and need earlier meetings. If you reach out to people to build relationships, she offered, they will eventually start coming to you.ferndale pride 2013 ad

What’s Next?
April’s Mayors & Managers forum generated some amazing discussion, but it doesn’t end there! The discussion brought up a variety of policy prescriptions and case studies of successful cities and organizations that are engaging their older adult populations in interesting new ways. Our next In the Ring publication will take a deep dive into these ideas and share creative policy ideas on how inner-ring suburbs can be great places for the Baby Boomer generation.

In the meantime, check out the Built for Boomers Idea Book . This publication is packed with best practices and opportunities for cities in metro Detroit to plan for practical, age-friendly solutions for built-out communities. You can also check out our past Idea Books and In the Ring publications.

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About Sarah Hoerl

Sarah studied urban planning at the University of Michigan – Dearborn and interned at the Canadian Parliament before joining the Suburbs Alliance in 2010. As our events coordinator, she brings leaders together at exciting events to facilitate dialogue and collaboration.  Learn more at www.michigansuburbsalliance.org.

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