America's cities are beginning to grapple with a fact of life: People are getting old, fast, and doing it in communities designed for the sprightly.
To envision how this silver tsunami will challenge a youth-oriented society, just consider that seniors soon will outnumber schoolchildren in fast-paced New York City. It will take some creative steps to make New York and other cities age-friendly enough to help the coming crush of older adults stay active and independent in their own homes.
"It's about changing the way we think about the way we're growing old in our community," said New York Deputy Mayor Linda Gibbs. "The phrase 'end of life' does not apply anymore."
With initiatives such as using otherwise idle school buses to take seniors grocery shopping, the World Health Organization recognizes New York as a leader in this movement. It's not alone.
Atlanta is creating what it calls "lifelong communities." Philadelphia is testing whether living in a truly walkable community really makes older adults healthier. In Portland, Ore., there's a push to fit senior concerns such as accessible housing into the city's new planning and zoning policies.
Such work is getting a late start, considering how long demographers have warned that the population is about to get a lot grayer.
While this fledgling movement is being driven by nonprofit and government programs, New York aims to get private businesses to ante up, too. Last year, East Harlem became the city's first "aging improvement district." Sixty stores, identified with window signs, agreed to put out folding chairs to let older customers rest as they do their errands. A community pool set aside seniors-only hours so older swimmers could get in their laps without faster kids and teens in the way.
The size of the aging boom is staggering. Every day for the next few decades, thousands of baby boomers will turn 65. Among the oldest-old, the 85- to 90-somethings, their numbers have grown by nearly one-third in the past decade. -- AP