Aging in Urban Centers

As baby boomers – those born between 1946 and 1964 – continue to age, their influence on the development of the urban landscape will remain significant, due to both the size of the age cohort and the unique needs of an aging population. New Jersey, currently ranked 11th in the nation in overall adult population over age 60, will not be immune from these influences. From 2000 to 2010, New Jersey’s over 60 population grew 15%, representing 19% of the 2010 state population.[1] This population will continue to grow as baby boomers entire retirement age and many communities are pushing for more walkable environments for aging in place.

Aging residents often face significant barrier to their mobility.

It is the responsibility of planners and policy makers to create safe, accessible spaces for all residents, including vulnerable populations. New Jersey boasts a significant disabled population, with roughly 20% of residents aged 65 to 74 years and 50% of residents aged 75 and older claiming a disability.[2] These groups are more prone to disease and injury, increasing the importance of creating safe, walkable communities. An active lifestyle can mitigate injury, dementia, and reduce heart related illnesses.[3] A study published in 2002 showed that the physical environment near elderly individuals has an impact on their overall well-being. Examining a sample of elderly residents over the course of five years, the study concluded that residents who lived in urban environments near tree lined streets and near places with less street traffic were more likely to go on walks and, in turn, live longer. These findings remained significant independent of socioeconomic status, sex, age, functional status, and marital status.[4] As the aging population grows, it is necessary to create places and spaces the encourage them to remain active, healthy, and social.

As residents age, concerns over their ability to safely operate a car can severely restrict mobility, and in turn, limit their social interactions. According to the AARP, more than 20% of Americans age 65 or older do not drive.[5] Being immobile reduces the ability to meet with people, shop, and remain relatively independent.  Safe, walkable communities not only provide comfortable walking environments but can increase freedom and social exchanges.[6] Elderly populations that live in walkable environments are more likely to participate in local politics, know their neighbors, and interact with people in their community. In order to foster these relationships and partnerships, better walking infrastructure must be put in place.

Complete Streets are designed to provide safe access throughout the community for all residents, including the elderly.

Planners need to focus on minimizing barriers to walking, which include damaged sidewalks and long cross walks, not only to accommodate vulnerable populations such as the elderly, but to create better walking environments for everyone. The Complete Streets movement seeks to provide safe streets for all users. As a national leader in Complete Streets, New Jersey Department of Transportation is committed to balancing “the needs of drivers, pedestrians, transit vehicles, emergency responders, and goods movement.”[7] While not a specific design solution, complete streets usually feature curb extensions, trees, and frequent crossing intersections, providing safe infrastructure for elderly populations, while also creating character and safety for the larger community. By creating spaces that are accommodating to vulnerable populations, planners are creating more appealing spaces for everyone.


[1] New Jersey Department of Human Services. 2013. “State Strategic Plan on Aging.” Pg. 4

[2] New Jersey Department of Human Services. 2013. “State Strategic Plan on Aging.” Pg. 5

[3] Ceder, Jocelyn Milici. 2013. “Seniors: Walkability Benefits for an Aging Public.” Walk Score. <http://blog.walkscore.com/2013/03/seniors-walkability-benefits-for-an-aging-public/&gt;

[4] T. Takano, K. Nakamura, and M. Watanabe. 2002. “Residential Environments for Longevity.” Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, 56:12. Pg. 916

[5] Frederick Kunkle. 2007. “Drive to Keep Going”. The Washington Post. <http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/12/07/AR2007120702298.html&gt;

[6] Ceder. 2013.

[7] New Jersey Department of Transportation. 2012. “Making Complete Streets a Reality: A Guide to Complete Streets Development.” pg. 2

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