There are numerous benefits of cities that are friendlier to citizens not using private vehicles as a means of transportation. Links have been made between more ‘walkable’ cities or neighborhoods and decreased poverty, chronic health issues, crime, and food deserts. One aspect that is rarely discussed, however, is the benefit walkable cities have for our aging population.
Perhaps the greatest fear for the majority of aging baby boomers is the loss of independence or of becoming a burden to those responsible for their care. Within most traditional cities, the loss of a driver’s license is the start of all those fears becoming a reality. Suddenly, you are dependent upon a family member to take you to appointments or grocery shopping. It becomes difficult to even travel to visit people without assistance.
Many of these fears may appear to be isolated incidences, but as our largest generation begins to reach retirement age, they are becoming more pronounced. Advancements in medical technology have also enabled baby boomers to live longer, meaning that without some changes, more of them are going to be in need of regular assistance in completing day to day tasks.
Walkable Cities Comforting
Walkable cities offer some level of comfort to baby boomers fearing a loss of independence because they are designed in such a way that allows even those without a personal vehicle to travel efficiently. They are typically neighborhoods of mixed development, various shops and grocers are mixed in with doctors’ offices and family residences. Because of limited parking, these areas naturally lend themselves to taking a stroll.
Having the ability to go walk around to meet our necessary needs may not seem like much, but as we age it can become a lifeline to an independent life. Walking also offers far more opportunities to become connected with the community, which can ultimately reduce loneliness often experienced by the elderly. Seniors that are able to get out of the house and connect are less likely to fall into depression, which can exasperate any number of chronic health issues they may be experiencing.
The community feel brought about by walkable cities is beginning to become more of a national discussion. Rutgers University professor, Emily Greenfield recently wrote an article calling for greater political power to be focused upon age friendly community initiatives. According to the article, these initiatives:
- Are developed in specific geographical areas, which typically are small in size, such as a municipality, neighborhood, or even a cluster of large apartment buildings
- Share an emphasis on enhancing older adults’ health and well-being, as well as their ability to age in place and connection to their community
Growing Old in a Mixed Neighborhood
Both points emphasize the added benefits of growing old in a mixed neighborhood where developing a community connection becomes significantly easier. A number of non-profit organizations and federal initiatives are beginning to make some headway, but it is a slow process.
Ultimately, for senior citizens the benefits of small walkable communities are not just limited to a greater degree of freedom and community engagement. Regardless, they are truly compelling reasons in and of themselves to push for greater initiatives geared towards the development of more cities without the necessity of a private vehicle. Loss of freedom and fears of becoming a burden do not have to be the basis of growing old.