Aging is a fact of life that begins the moment we are born although most of us seem to avoid thinking of it in those terms. Instead, we divide our life into the two phases: growing up and growing old. This places our life on an upward trajectory that eventually peaks and then plummets back towards earth till we find ourselves back in diapers and once again dependent on those around us. Pretty bleak stuff.
Luckily, aging is all about perspective. You’ve heard it all million times before: 50 is the new 30, 70 is the new 40, Black is the new 100. Anyone who has passed that arbitrary “peak” and is now in the proverbial state of being “over the hill,” won’t be able to pinpoint the moment they arrived at the growing old stage. There is no defining moment that signals old age. Life and time simply gradually unfold together.
That is why community initiatives, technological research and development, and housing innovations, are all moving away from a focus on meeting the needs of the elderly and towards creating solutions that are “age-friendly.” Essentially, this trend acknowledges that aging is a constant process and not a destination you reach.
While you might experience a knee jerk reaction to dismiss the concept of “age-friendly” as just another politically friendly buzzword, it isn’t the result of clever marketing spin job meant to make you feel more upbeat and positive about getting old. Cities across the United States are making real changes that are meant to benefit people of all ages.
In Portland, Oregon, the city has reduced neighborhood speed limits to 20 mph so that the streets are more pedestrian friendly. The city is also buying up plots of land to turn into green spaces and community gardens that are within a half mile walking distance for all residents. This makes public spaces accessible to everyone, encourages community involvement, and reduces social isolation, which can be a major contributing factor to depression among the elderly.
New York City is also leading the way when it comes to implementing age-friendly initiatives. The city has installed more benches and seating areas that allow people to rest and encourage socialization. They are also working to provide free tickets to cultural events and discounted university classes so people of all ages and backgrounds can mix and mingle and enjoy what the city has to offer.
The country’s top homebuilders are even jumping on the age-friendly bandwagon and designing multigenerational homes that are meant to accommodate the needs of a variety of age demographics. These homes feature wide doorways, flat thresholds, and separate living quarters that can allow provide a certain amount of privacy.
Not only are Americans changing the way we think about aging, we are also changing the way we age. And that is a good thing. It isn’t about how to look younger longer or “fight the signs of aging,” the trick is to come up with real solutions that will improve the quality of life for everyone in your community and not waste so much time trying to and outsmart Mother Nature. You get to decide what 70 looks and feels like and whether you will still be growing up when you are in your 80s.