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When the longevity revolution hits your town: a three-part series

Jan 30 2009 - 11:49am

By Cecily O'Connor, RedwoodAge.com

Stella Gerson rides a Whistlestop shuttle to a senior center in San Rafael, Calif. (RedwoodAge.com)

It's no problem for Stella Gerson to walk down to the bus stop. Getting home is the hard part.

"I have to go up a hill to my house," said the 89-year-old San Anselmo, Calif., resident, who suffers from macular degeneration, a disease that blurs her vision.

In Northern California where Gerson lives, transportation is one of several pressing needs for a rapidly graying population. Age-friendly housing, affordable healthcare, walkable neighborhoods, crime-free streets and social activities are others. 

As they age, many residents think about these needs by asking themselves, "Is my community a great place to grow old?" 

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That question is becoming more urgent as 78 million U.S. boomers race toward retirement like a "silver tsunami" that, by its sheer size and market power, will change the way we think about aging. The answer will likely redefine retirement, not only for boomers but for the generations that follow. 

"We have a wonderful challenge ahead," said Christine Kennedy, chief executive officer of the Leading Age Institute, which helps communities launch "age-friendly" programs. Boomers are "coming at the infrastructure of cities at a rapid pace, and if we don't prepare for it, we're in trouble."

While the problem is national, solutions must be tailored to specific needs of each city and county. Five diverse Northern  California cities -- San Francisco, San Rafael, Santa Rosa, Sacramento and Vallejo -- reflect the range of challenges that face communities across the United States. 

In this three-part series based on dozens of interviews conducted over the course of three months, we examine why it's important for a city to become age friendly; the challenges raised by the graying population; and shortcomings that towns need to address. We also examine initiatives by individuals who are leveraging community resources to fill needs that cities can't address.

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Cecily O'Connor is a senior writer for RedwoodAge.com, a news site for readers over 40. This report was produced by RedwoodAge with financial support from the community-funded journalism site Spot.us.

 

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