Be a planetizen.


I confess: I am a addict. I find the online “digest” for professional planners, designers and developers irresistible, and I could spend hours reading about ideas for a future I will not live to see.

On February 18, I encountered Will Doig’s feature on How to solve the boomer retirement crisis.” It advises attracting older people to urban redevelopment. That resonated with me. Our city does have some low income, high rise housing for the elderly. Because they were there first, and had to be dealt with, they got their building upgraded. I contend that the real target elder market should be those faithful symphony season ticket holders who HATE having to drive downtown, and head back to their suburban homes as fast as they can when the concert is over.

Doig discovered by his research that keeping the old folks out of the city is economically foolish. Here’s the nub of it:

“You’ve got this whole generation that moved to the suburbs thanks to government subsidies,” says Howard Gleckman, author of “Caring for Our Parents” and a fellow at the Urban Institute. “They got tax breaks for moving there and now they’re staying.” Even city-dwelling boomers — up to 65 percent of them — head for the land of the lawns once the kids move out….As they have every right to. But a census-busting generation growing unprecedentedly old while scattered so wide will make caring for aging boomers vastly more complicated…”

I’ve noticed that downtown planners want everything to be pretty, to attract beautiful young families. Good enough, but this article notes that tearing out public seating to discourage the occupation of homeless people and putting up metal spikes to keep teenagers off low walls are [elder]hostile urban design decisions. We need sometimes to sit and take the load off. He also mentions that “gentrification” [scaling up by tearing down or changing facades] in urban areas “can wipe out the familiar visual cues dementia sufferers use to avoid getting lost,” adding “trendy new bars don’t do much for an octogenarian.”

I would add to that: open kitchens are the worst idea yet. Taking away the walls in restaurants tops taking away linen tablecloths as a cheap trick to keep costs down. The kids don’t seem to mind yelling across the din. Wait until they need hearing aids!

In our city, there now is a weekly group run from a trendy restaurant built in the restored train station (discounts on cocktails afterward). Saturday night entertainment livens up the dark streets (and dangerously uneven sidewalks). There are more and more child-friendly venues. Is this ageism or what?

What we don’t have: ordinary groceries, drugstores, doctors’ offices, or readable signage.

Doig sees reciprocity as the key. We could provide child care for younger couples by planting grannies in their backyards. A new condo or co-op project would attract older adults by having a health aide living in their midst.

It doesn’t take a genius to figure this out. With a code change or two, lots for single or even double units could be sized to include small cottages at the back, secured within the property walls. If not a resident health worker, urban condos and apartment buildings could be served by “home visitors,” arranged through a nearby hospital.

What about this one? Pipe symphony music into the out-of-doors when the orchestra is in practice. It’s been done. It might encourage the younger generation to tune into their own surroundings.

If you like to peek around corners – and see architecture and environments across the world – check out You might discover that some of the “new” ideas featured on this compendium sound familiar.

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