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Designing for Our Aging Population: Building Neighborhoods for All Ages

America is graying rapidly. According to the U.S. census bureau, by 2035 those over 65 will outnumber children for the first time in history. Alongside this longevity dividend comes a significant challenge in making communities livable, engaging, and supportive for seniors. Far too many find their neighborhoods and even homes no longer meet their physical needs and lifestyle preferences past a certain age.

The solution lies in taking age-friendly design from slogan to standard practice. Every community under development today will house residents over 85 in a few decades. That means considering features that cater to changing physical capabilities, encourage continued participation, and facilitate intergenerational connections upfront. When done thoughtfully, the same elements allowing seniors to comfortably age in place also make neighborhoods more welcoming for young families, children, and everyone between.

Walkability for Wheelchairs and Strollers Alike

By 2050, over 20% of the 65+ population will use a mobility device like a wheelchair or scooter. Ensuring sidewalks feature smooth, wide surfaces and curbless transitions makes navigating outdoors safe and enjoyable for all ages. These standards also better accommodate stroller use for parents and sandplay for toddlers. Dropping curbs and textured ground surfaces at crosswalks aid those with low vision while pedestrian-activated walk signals allow those slower to cross.

Bring Programming Outdoors

Utilizing parks and green spaces for activities like yoga, concerts, or craft fairs encourages all generations to come outside and mingle casually. Outdoor classes cater to parents bouncing babies or seniors carrying oxygen tanks while still socializing. Covered seating and shade shelters ensure weather or mobility constraints do not limit participation.

Indoor Spaces to Unite Generations

Multi-purpose community centers offer programming nurturing intergenerational bonds like children reading to seniors, teenagers assisting with technology lessons for older learners, and more. Having space for large community meals, games, holiday events, and interest clubs makes regularly connecting convenient regardless of age or family status.

Mix Accessible Housing for Life’s Stages

New developments can designate 10-20% of units as accessible or convertible to meet evolving physical needs with features like curbless showers, grab bars, and lowered cabinets. Grouping some together near community amenities then enables building naturally occurring retirement communities within larger multi-generational neighborhoods. This allows simplifying maintenance, healthcare access, and continuing education.

Universal Design from the Ground Up

While retrofitting homes and sidewalks tends to single seniors out, baking age-friendly elements into standard design serves all while sidestepping stigma. From single story living to wide hallways and doors to rocker-style light switches, small touches make daily living far easier. And given only 10% of people over 65 relocate into designated senior housing, improving general community accessibility extends independence.

Technology Enabling Communication & Contribution

Ensuring programming, announcements and community feedback channels utilize both digital and print platforms makes participation possible for those less tech-savvy while still moving towards automation. Tech mentoring closes skill gaps. Digital community calendars with text alerts plus notice boards at common spaces share upcoming events widely. Enlisting seniors to welcome new residents with welcome gifts leverages their skills supporting inclusion.

The number of Americans over 65 will nearly double within a few decades. This graying of society challenges designers and developers to build communities engaging people across ages and abilities. The great news is small thoughtful interventions in how we build and connect today allow more people to comfortably age in neighborhoods they know and love rather than face isolation and dependence. In the process, improving accessibility and participation options benefits whole families and the community at large.

At Best Life Communities, we are meeting this need for age-friendly neighborhood design head on. Our architects, urban planners and wellness consultants guide every decision around layout, amenities, programming and technology access to facilitate healthy aging in the community. We would love the opportunity to consult with municipal planners and developers looking to make their new projects welcoming for residents of all life stages. Please reach out to us at to learn more about how Best Life’s award-winning age-friendly model can help update neighborhoods in your area as well. Let’s work together to set the new standard for accessible, vibrant places future generations are proud to call home.

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