Author: Tara Mancini
“We recently cut all the street curbs, put in benches and are making other changes.” My cousin from North Carolina pipped in as we finished off bagels and waffles at Spot Coffee. She made a week of it; visiting the Roosevelt site, Canalside, Delaware Park, Lockport, and Niagara Falls. And then with the news of our Albright Knox having a number of Miro-s, Van Gogh-s, Monet-s, etc, she was off and running again. As we parted I recalled the expense her little town outside of Charlotte was taking on. She is a librarian in a working class town and thought it was worth the expense. The town obviously agreed as they are now enjoying the return on their investment; the retirees are staying in their houses and paying taxes.
It is not unusual to hear, Buffalo doesn’t have any money. However, small towns and large cities are putting in accommodations and making the budgets work. The 2010 Census put the City of Buffalo at having 1 in 3 people at 45 years old and older, or 33.0%. Others are seeing the same trends. With this in mind places like Brooklyn and Queens, New York have been implementing 10 minute parks, where people of all ages have only a 10 minute walk to relax or exercise in a green space with benches and gardens. There’s even more playgrounds, so Grandpa can take the grandkid when they visit. (Moms make note !)
The babyboomers are retiring, and the question is…how will this affect Buffalo? And vise versa, how can Buffalo affect them?
Other cities are not waiting around, they have grabbed hold of an idea and are pioneering solutions to some basic needs. The Atlanta Regional Commission in the State of Georgia brought in consultants to understand, “aging in place”. Essentially, how an aging population will change the fabric of the community? But really…What is a community without them?
One quote from realtor.org states, “…aging is natural enough. But whether a communities experience it as a disaster or not will depend entirely on man-made factor,…” Amy Levner, manager for home and family at AARP, expands on the change of retirement plans, “What’s happened is that age-segregated retirement communities are not attractive to a majority today. People are not moving to Florida or Arizona in droves like they use to. They are working longer, they are staying engaged in their local community and they are staying in their homes.”
Supporting these statements is that since 1990, 90% of people that are retired do not leave their county with most staying in the same home. They are in effect, “aging in place”. As the bulk of the population ages in their home, they do so with money, time and votes. How will they influence communities?
Getting back to the Consultants for the Atlanta Regional Commission they defined three areas; “expanding housing and transportation options, encouraging healthy lifestyles and expanding awareness of and access to services.” Taking it the next step, a third party design firm studied five neighborhoods and found some basic changes would make all the difference, a few of which are already in the City of Buffalo code:
- Cut the sidewalk curbs
- Widen & leveling the sidewalks: See code 413- 43 & 45 (4 ft wide, 1/2 in drop grading)
- Improved public transport
- Up-grading existing or new housing to accommodate walkers, wheel chairs, etc
- Distance to shops, restaurants and commercial strips
- Change signal light timing, crosswalk count down signals
- Benches in public spaces
But what would it cost? Costs are not just one way. For instance, why have street curb cuts if they cost money? Well, the people who need them not only pay taxes, but they tend to use the curb cuts to access and spend money at local restaurants and stores. Retirees have a quantifiable value to contribute.
Transportation and distance to parks and stores make the difference. There will be 15.5 million Americans age 65 and older that will remain in communities that have poor or nonexistent public transport by 2015. When a senior lacks a bus or the distance is too difficult to walk to the park, store or grocery store, they travel less. But so what?
The research is telling; they have been making 15% fewer trips to the doctor, for lower cost preventative care. Which can lead to higher rates of costly emergency care. They also make 65% fewer trips to visit friends and family. And for all those store and restaurant owners out there…these same customers will make 59% fewer trips to your store.
As for non-for-profits, seniors make up the bulk of volunteers, with over 70 % involvement rates. They also are donors. If they can’t get to hospital to volunteer or the park lacks benches…they are not able to contribute.
Mableton, Georgia took the data and made the changes. There was a large track of land at the center of the town that had not been developed. They converted it to a walkable town center. “…we noticed that these ‘independent living builds’ required people to move to places that are kind of cut off. We wanted to make the whole community senior friendly, rather than make them move to a separate development that is senior friendly”, said Dana Johnson, planning division manager for Cobb County. The changes included; wider sidewalks, and changing traffic signal timing for older pedestrians, building with no-step entrances and even a “mix-use center where people can get services and actives in one place.” They didn’t forget the rest of the population and agreed to locate a new school in the area, and an “intergenerational community garden where older residents will mentor youngsters in cultivating plant life.”
In recent months, the City of Buffalo has been busy installing numerous ADA-compliant (ADA Solutions) tactile curb pads at street corners throughout various neighborhoods. This appears to be a first step towards helping the elderly, the disabled, and others with accessibility issues, to navigate the street crossings. It’s encouraging to see this work being performed. It’s also a signal that planners are aware of the issues, and are hopefully considering additional infrastructure improvements in years to come. There’s a lot more that needs to be done.
Are we ready? Changing signal lights, cutting curbs and simply putting in more benches for retirees who need a rest would be a cheap and simple first step for Buffalo. For many retirees it is the only thing needed. It would help them access stores, shops and farmers markets. It would help keep businesses local. Our on-for-profits who run our parks and parkways would have more donors. As for business, these are the people that keep our cafes and markets open during the day. And if for nothing else, are we really going to let the Mabletons care more and do more than us?
- “Aging Places: How Some Local Communities Are Preparing for a Surging Population of Seniors” By David A. Goldberg, www.realtor.org
- “The Pursuit of Affordable TODS” By Judy Newman, www.realtor.org