How Elder-Friendly is Your Community?

New guide to livable communities contains blueprint for what you need to know.

By SHARE

The implications of an aging population continue to seep into all facets of society. Few areas are more important than the mix of largely local rules and cultural practices that determine whether a town or city is a good place in which to grow old and live.

Seniors walking in a park
Seniors walking in a park

Aging in place has emerged as the catch-all category that has evolved in response to surveys showing that, for 90 percent of us, our retirement dream consists of nothing more (or less) than staying put in the homes and towns that mean the most to us. The label may refer to in-home modifications that accommodate elderly occupants. In our label-crazed culture, this topic also has its own label: universal design.

Livable communities is another buzz phrase under the aging-in-place umbrella. You may notice these phrases lack specific reference to aging and the elderly. That's on purpose. Senior-centric programs often are seen as a turn-off to non-seniors.

A big problem with developing more livable communities is that all levels of government are tapped out these days and for the foreseeable future. Sure, we might all like to build marvelous public transit systems for older riders who no longer drive. But the money just isn't there.

[Read: Boomer Retirement Advice to Kids: Don't Do What I Did.]

On a more practical level, however, an impediment to fashioning more livable communities is the lack of a common vocabulary. What are they? Equally important, how do we measure how far along the "livability" continuum our town may be?

MetLife's Mature Market Institute and the Stanford University Center on Longevity have just issued a research report on livable communities. It lays out a series of important indicators to measure those aging-in-place variables seen as crucial to livability.

"The major challenge to developing an indicator system for livable communities is the lack of existing data at the local (e.g., city or town) level," the report said. It tries to fill such gaps by developing a research-based list of local indicators that is based on local data that already exists as opposed to expensive new projects.

Researchers then developed no fewer than 14 sets of livability indicators and listed those local programs, rules and conditions that need to be in place to help older people thrive. How many of these have you considered, and how do you think your community fares in being age-friendly?

Here they are:

1. Accessible/Visitable Housing

Guidelines/policies encouraging development of accessible and/or visitable housing.

Presence of home modification services.

2. Housing Options

Zoning code allows accessory dwelling units, home sharing and other flexible arrangements.

Zoning code allows assisted living and senior housing facilities.

What percent of housing is not large-lot, single-family homes?

3. Affordable Housing

What is the portion of senior households paying less than 30 percent of their annual income for housing?

Property tax rates.

Median home purchase and rental prices.

4. Transportation Options

Supply of public transit.

Supply of senior transportation services by volunteers.

5. Walkable Neighborhoods

Public policies for "complete streets"—sidewalks in good condition, frequent and safe pedestrian crossings, median islands and bike lanes.

Supply of public park and recreation areas.

[Read: Will Healthcare Hurt Boomers' Retirement?]

6. Safe Driving Conditions

Supply of protected left-hand turn lanes and signals.

Supply of well-lit, readable and helpful road signs.

7. Neighborhood Safety

Rates for property and violent crimes.

8. Emergency Preparedness

Senior needs directly addressed in public preparedness plans.

9. Healthcare

Not designated as federal health professional shortage area.

Supplies of licensed hospital beds, primary care physicians, geriatricians, physical therapists and other specialists.

Supply of preventive health programs for things such as immunizations and falls.

10. Supportive Services

Supply of home- and community-based healthcare, meals and adult day care.

Supply of caregiver and respite support groups.

[See Best Places to Retire for Under $40,000.]

11. General Retail Services

High "walkability" score.

Percent of land zoned for mixed use and retail.

12. Healthy Food

Not designated as federal "food desert."

Policies support local farmers' markets.

Supply of home-delivered and publicly funded nutritious meals.

13. Social Integration

Percent of seniors who live alone.

Supply of events promoting intergenerational activities.

14. Participation in Community Life

Supplies of places of worship, community centers, libraries, museums and colleges.

Supply of volunteer opportunities.