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Boom Towns

Alan Delatorre, Sightline Dailyvia Worldchanging
In 2011, the first Boomer will turn 65, an occasion that will herald an epochal demographic shift. Just as babies boomed in the 1940s through 1960s, older adults will become North America’s – and much of the rest of the world’s – fastest-growing demographic. This imminent population shift is beginning to force a long-overdue conversation about the unique housing, environmental, and health care needs of an aging population.

Unfortunately, it’s a conversation that many of us are ill-prepared to undertake. A recent AARP study, for example, found a massive disconnect between perceptions of aging and its reality. The vast majority of people surveyed expressed optimism that they would not only be in good physical health in their later years, but that they would always be able to drive.

Can you say, “denial”?

…First, accept that you are aging. Denying the changes that occur with normal aging will make it more difficult to plan for your future needs. If you know that you may not be able to drive forever, you’ll have a reason to learn your way around your town’s transit system, and to choose housing that is close to necessary services. If you are looking for housing where you would like to remain (e.g., especially if you’re aged 50-70), why not try examining properties with a wheelchair or walker in mind?

Second, developers, planners, and homebuyers can break away from the “Peter Pan” style of development, which assumes we’ll never grow old. Housing that works for the elderly can work for other age groups too: a home that accommodates a walker or wheelchair will also serve mothers pushing strollers and able-bodied younger people. “Visitable/visit-able” housing design can and should be incorporated into as much new and redeveloped housing as possible. Simple features like wide doorways and hallways, at least one zero-step entrance, and an accessible bathroom on the bottom floor will begin to create housing that many people can age in and will also allow for hosting friends, families, and neighbors who are aged and/or disabled.

Finally, we can foster innovation in housing design and development. Concepts such as co-housing and the Green House model merit further exploration; these opportunities need to be expanded to be available to those with limited and fixed incomes. Cultivating community and facilitating environments that tap into the assets of older adults (rather than solely focusing on needs) will help create a society that supports the wisdom and worth of our older population.
(6 Oct 2009)

Bloomberg’s “PlaNYC” Continues Forward Moves

Neil Pearce,
So ambitious was Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s “PlaNYC” for America’s lead city, first unveiled on Earth Day 2007, that it set a new standard for 21st century planning in U.S. cities.

But then came prolonged wrangling and eventual rejection by the state legislature of a salient feature of the plan– “congestion pricing” under which tolls would be imposed on private vehicles entering Manhattan’s traffic-clogged business district during working hours. Outer borough and suburban opposition proved to be extreme.

Out of the limelight, however, two-thirds of PlaNYC’s 127 recommended steps are reported to be on time or ahead of schedule. In the plan’s public accounting, released each Earth Day, advances include a sharp increase in more clean-fuel taxis, $100 million yearly outlays for efficiency upgrades of government buildings, and first cutbacks in city-wide greenhouse gas emissions. Some 200,000 trees have been planted, 20 pilot projects begun to clean up city waterways, 79 new playgrounds constructed.

And in contrast to “here today, gone tomorrow” initiatives in many cities, a remarkably strong base for long-term progress appears to have been set. The City Council voted to make Bloomberg’s Office of Long-Term Planning and Sustainability a permanent part of city government. And that office is making waves. As an outside observer relates, it “beats up on the bureaucracy to stay focused. The approach is ruthless, and so is the mayor. Quarterly and annual targets are set. Commissioners and department heads are held strictly accountable.”…
(24 Sept 2009)

Review: My Kind of Transit: Rethinking Public Transportation in America

Tim Halbur, Planetizen
Far from a boring treatise on the need for public transit, My Kind of Transit is an appeal on behalf of the emotional factors that make most transit repulsive and a select few forms enjoyable and uplifting.

It is always gratifying as a reader to see your own obsessions justified. That’s why I was so pleased to see Darrin Nordahl give loving recognition to Disneyland’s transportation systems in the very first chapter of his new book, My Kind of Transit: Rethinking Public Transportation in America.

Far from a boring treatise on the need for public transit, My Kind of Transit is an appeal on behalf of the emotional factors that make most transit repulsive and a select few forms enjoyable and uplifting. Nordahl gives detailed analysis of how Disneyland’s antique transit forms (the omnibus, the horse-pulled streetcar) give riders a sense of “buoyancy” and “giddiness.” On both vehicles, he observes that it is the transparency of the vehicle, allowing passengers to see out and be a part of the environment as they pass through it, which makes them so enjoyable.

…Possibly the most compelling argument Nordahl makes with this book is that the most beloved transit in the U.S. are the systems that are unique and tailor-made for their location. Cable cars in San Francisco and funiculars in Pittsburgh still operate not because they are the fastest or most efficient way to get from place to place, but because they offer an experience that is pleasurable and worth the trip…
(5 Oct 2009)