North America is aging. Seniors are beginning to represent a larger demographic than ever before – and our cities just aren’t made for them. It’s going to take innovative policies, design, and lifestyle philosophies to make cities, their public amenities and their private households, better suited to work for an older society.
Right now there are a lot of challenges facing seniors in cities and suburbs in North America. Pedestrian fatalities, isolation, few alternative housing options, and design not made to accommodate them are major obstacles to their quality of life.
Reducing Speed Limits & Redesigning Streets
Pedestrian deaths in North America on the rise, reaching quarter-century highs, and seniors are disproportionately represented as victims in fatal pedestrian-auto collisions.
As seniors begin to make up a greater part of the population, a combination of better street design, infrastructure, and lower speed limits in urban and suburban areas are going to be key to reducing fatalities. The World Health Organizations draws a direct connection between speed limits and how likely a collision is to be fatal, while road design features like arterial slow zones, ADA-compliant sidewalks, street trees, narrower vehicle lanes, signal-protected pedestrian crossings, slow-turn wedges, and pedestrian islands will mill make cities and suburbs safer and more walkable for everyone, including seniors.
Flexible Senior Living Apartments
When most people think about senior living apartments, they think about assisted living facilities. But the future of senior living lies in flexible arrangements that can facilitate both independent seniors and those who need more extensive care (such as those with mobility restrictions or dementia), and senior housing that can offer flexible care to allow seniors to age in place.
Cities across North America are also facing two interlinked issues: many are facing acute housing shortages while seniors are overhoused; they live in houses with empty bedrooms and more space than they need. Those same seniors can face high costs when retrofitting their homes to fit mobility needs, and there remain many policy incentives for them to stay. At the same time, younger generations have been shut out of the housing market and are delaying having families because of it.
Meanwhile, you can see how senior living is changing in senior living apartments that now focus on fostering independent lifestyles with the gradual introduction of care as needed. Located in walkable neighborhoods, city-adjacent suburbs, and close to both medical offices and shopping areas, these are places that let seniors stay engaged with the community rather than become isolated. More senior housing options like these will feature extensively in cities built for seniors.
Changing Design for Seniors
While jurisdictions across North America have been introducing legislation that encourages universal design to make public spaces more accessible for those with disabilities, including seniors, enforcement remains lacking across the board. And then there’s the issue of private spaces.
Houses, apartments, and condos remain designed for the young. Anyone who wants to age in their home will likely one day have to invest extensively in renovating their homes – and that may not be an option in some apartments or condos.
Changing the way we build cities can feel like a slow process, and society is aging faster than those changes can keep up. Fortunately, the answers are already there. They just need bolder city councils, state governments, and private enterprises to implement them.