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Cities Are Becoming Our Innovation Hubs

Pittsburgh, PA
A once industrial city, Pittsburgh is now extremely green.

You hear a lot about things that are in. Well, today for the first time in years, America’s cities are where it’s at. And an amazing transformation is occurring: Cities are reinventing themselves and becoming innovation hubs. ( Pittsburgh, Denver and Austin are just a few examples.) And that doesn’t just mean attracting Silicon Valley startups.

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Cities that offer accessible amenities and services that people of all ages want — such as walkability, restaurants, museums, medical facilities and shopping — are surging. Demographic changes over the next decades will reinforce the growth of livable, walkable areas, as aging boomers, Gen Xers and millennials, who are now entering their household formation age, increasingly choose livable cities.

Mayors today are also being compelled to act by new paradigms of demography and what people want.

  • By 2030, 1 in 4 Americans will be over the age of 50 — and the 65-plus population will increase to 72 million.
  • Just as we’re aging nationwide, every state and almost every community is aging.
  • When the boomers are long gone, we will still be an older society. (Yes, there are a lot of boomers, but there are even more millennials, and they will live even longer lives.)
  • At the same time, tens of millions of boomers growing older want to remain in their communities.

While these demographic shifts are compelling, we also see that boomers, Gen Xers and millennials all say they want the same things in their communities. Every generation wants:

  • To live in places that are safe and affordable
  • To be connected to family and friends
  • To get around easily
  • To be part of a community and economy that enables opportunity

Innovations in livability that are making our cities attractive places for all ages are becoming a driving force for economic growth. Given this, just about everybody is “doing cities” these days. Think tanks, foundations, international organizations, environmental groups, businesses — you name it.

At AARP we have the AARP Network of Age-Friendly Communities, which is the U.S. affiliate of the World Health Organization’s global network of age-friendly cities and communities. Beyond that, there are cities programs focused on everything from development and implementation of resilience strategies, to Complete Streets and green infrastructure efforts at addressing global climate change.

While cities are in for so many groups, and on the surface each may be advocating for different things, at the heart of the matter everyone is working for a common goal, which are communities with strong economies that have the infrastructure to be livable for residents across all ages.

Age-friendly, livable communities are about much more than simply helping seniors.

  • Everyone benefits from a safe, healthy environment.
  • Everyone benefits from cleaner air.
  • Everyone benefits when communities avoid sprawling development and traffic congestion.

A safe, well-maintained street is good not only for an older person who needs a walker, but for a young parent pushing a stroller or a student biking to a job after school. A vibrant and dynamic economy is just as good for a 65-year-old who wants to remain in the workforce as it is for a 24-year-old just getting started in his or her career.

Nancy LeaMond is the AARP executive vice president for community, state and national affairs. Follow her on Twitter @NancyLeaMond.

Pittsburgh photo: Getty Images

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