Region Forward Blog

Livability and the baby boomers

Jun 21, 2011


Livability is a major buzz word in planning circles right now – for good reason. It’s a wide-ranging concept encompassing several factors that make places well livable: transportation choices affordable (and desirable) housing good schools rewarding careers clean environment lots of green and open space etc. It makes sense that livability is one of the main pillars of Region Forward since the goal of RF is to ensure that the impact of growth in metro Washington is positive on all these and other fronts.

One of the more interesting trends in the general renaissance of many of America’s largest cities is the movement of retiring baby boomers back into central cities and dense inner suburbs. As life expectancies continue to increase nationally and in the DC area retirement is no longer necessarily the final stage in people’s lives and isolation isn’t appealing to this huge demographic group that wants to remain active and vibrant.

The trend of baby boomers ditching their sprawling McMansions and moving into compact mixed-use neighborhoods is extremely positive from an environmental economic and quality-of-life perspective. However for it to continue places are going to have to invest in robust transportation systems. Walkability and transit accessibility are essential elements of livability. A new report by Transportation for America Aging in Place Stuck without Options: Fixing the Mobility Crisis Threatening the Baby Boom Generation shows that the country as a whole is doing very poorly at providing transit access to retiring baby boomers and seniors even as this group grows exponentially as a share of the population. The report also indicates that the number of seniors taking public transit trips in the United States nearly doubled from 2001 to 2009. That demand will continue to increase as more of this population subgroup moves into urban areas.

Metro Washington performed relatively well according to the report with a projected 308000 people aged 65 to 79 with poor access to transit in 2015. Percentage wise that’s 41 percent of the 65 to 79 year old population (we’re tied with the New York metro area on that measure). With the bar so low among our fellow regions however performing relatively well isn’t enough. Forty-one percent of any subgroup with poor transit access is a problem. A recent Washington Post article outlines some of the steps Arlington and Alexandria are taking to improve the ability of seniors to stay or locate in these urban environments including expanded transit and paratransit options. That’s a great start but there’s still a lot more work to be done.

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