Here’s a chart that shows the results from a recent survey put out by a group called A Place For Mom. It shows the preferences for walkability, transit, and safe streets from a nationwide sample of senior citizens:
Via the Curbed article, here’s a quote from a developer describing the typical designs of senior living homes:
Many developers, and society at large, assumed that seniors preferred a more rural or suburban location, due in large part to the fact that developers, looking to create larger campuses, sought out 3-5 acre plots of affordable land far from urban centers. Seniors don’t prefer campus living outside of town centers and urban centers, he says. That was a impression built on how the industry got started.
“We were creating these islands of old age,” he says, “where you’re surrounded by your peers and you lose that intergenerational connectivity. We found we were spending a disproportionate period of time busing our seniors to other places to generate that intergenerational connectivity.”
The fact that walking can be so hard in so much of the US landscape is particularly tragic given how beneficial staying active and walking can be for people as they age. Add in the idea of social isolation, and there’s a lot to be gained from designing streets and neighborhoods to be walkable and safe for people of all ages.
Take a look at the next intersection you see, and imagine seniors trying to use the crosswalk or countdown timer…
After my great-grandparents became incapable of living on their own, their children placed them in one of the first suburban nursing homes back in the 1960s, thinking it was a beautiful new campus, and they absolutely hated it. My great-grandmother in particular had been fond of taking the bus downtown to meet friends, poking around in the stores, having lunch, maybe taking in a movie, and that was no longer possible.
It was a church-related facility, and when she heard that local churches were taking up a collection to put a large statue of Jesus on the grounds, she said, “I have Jesus in my heart. We need a bus to take us places.”
As one of the other relatives said, “They should build an old folks’ home adjacent to Southdale.”
If I become overwhelmed with the demands of living as I grew older, I will be looking at urban senior facilities with access to public transit. I will not be cooped up in some suburban wasteland.
I have a relative who seems to favor senior places up in Maplewood to ones in St. Paul. I see them as isolated, but for some people it’s hard to imagine the day when they can’t drive any longer. It’s become such a default way to get around that it marks the transition from independence to dependence. And so people end up driving their cars later in life than they should. Perhaps my relative imagines the day he can no longer drive he will no longer want to walk, either. The irony is that his wife already doesn’t drive any longer and is totally dependent upon him.