What Does 'Livable' Mean to Older Americans?

  • 2015-12-11
  • City Fixer

People in the United States are getting older. But increasingly, they don't want to live in some old folks' community.

Nearly 20 percent of Americans will be over 65 by 2030, up from 12 percent in 2009. That boom has been accompanied by the rise of a concept known as "aging in place," a phrase unknown a generation ago but that has become a common buzzword today. It describes the rising trend toward older people staying put, rather than moving away from the neighborhoods where they've spent their younger years.

But will they be able to live safely and comfortably? And what will their lives be like as their needs and abilities change over time?

The AARP is developing a "livability index" to measure whether the country's neighborhoods are meeting the needs and desires of its older citizens. A new report out today from their Public Policy Institute, "What Is Livable? Community Preferences of Older Adults" [PDF] is part of that effort. The report surveyed more than 4,500 people from a wide range of income groups, ethnicities, and types of community, and found that 71 percent of those surveyed between the ages of 50 and 64 want to continue living where they are. Eighty-seven percent of those over 65 want to remain in their current homes.

The researchers asked respondents to rank which local government actions were most important for them. Three top priorities emerged: increased police presence; better schools; and a more pedestrian-friendly environment. That's not so different from what they want when they're younger. "Those are three things that would completely overlap with changes that would benefit all in the community," says Rodney Harrell, one of the lead researchers on the project.

Digging deeper into the responses reveals significant differences, among the survey subjects depending on their income levels and the type of communities they live in. Renters put a much higher priority on the development of affordable housing, for instance, and households with people with disabilities were more concerned with better transportation services for seniors and the disabled. For the most part, people want to prioritize services that address their personal needs directly