Why Cities Need to Be Business-Friendly, Family-Friendly and Age-Friendly

Oregon State Treasurer Ted Wheeler
Oregon State Treasurer Ted Wheeler

We couldn't have said it better ourselves, so we won't even try.

Ted Wheeler is the state treasurer of Oregon. On July 17 he was the keynote speaker at an AARP and Governing magazine roundtable event that convened Portland-area elected officials, municipal and regional staff, and private-sector leaders to share strategies for creating age-friendly, livable places.

Following are Wheeler's spot-on remarks about the importance of livable communities for people of all ages:

"By 2030 1 out of every 5 people in the U.S. will be 65 or older.

"We are not only aging as a population, we are living longer and we are making different choices about how we spend our golden years.

"Instead of moving to Phoenix, older adults are staying in Portland. Instead of living in a nursing home, more and more seniors want to stay in their own home. Rather than retiring, many older adults want to continue working.

"That means cities and communities have to change. The same work we put into making our cities business-friendly and culturally vibrant to attract young professionals and new families, now must be applied to making our communities livable for people of all ages.

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"The goal is to ensure we can live full and complete lives no matter what our age ... that we never stop engaging socially, civicly and economically.

"How do we do that? By creating safe, walkable streets; age-friendly housing and transportation options; access to needed services; and opportunities for residents of all ages to participate in community life.

"Portland, Oregon, is a good example of a city that is moving in the right direction. Portland was an inaugural member of AARP's Network of Age-Friendly Communities when it was launched in 2012.  Portland released its "Action Plan for an Age-Friendly Portland" in October 2013.

"Another good example is an effort I undertook as chair of Multnomah County [the state's most populous county and home of the largest city, Portland] in 2007 when I helped create and run the Task Force on Vital Aging.

"Many of the same people worked on both efforts, which really serves to highlight what can be achieved when people get together, regardless of their own distinct jurisdiction, to address challenges and create opportunities that matter to us all.

"I'm going to talk today about the Vital Aging Task Force, both because I was closer to that process and also because it focused on two areas I'm passionate about: employment and civic engagement among older adults.

See also: AARP Livability Fact Sheet Series

"Ten years ago, the talk about the 'Silver Tsunami' was focused around the negative effects of an aging population - the stress it puts on earned benefits like Social Security and Medicare, the risk it creates in our health care system, and the lack of housing and services to accommodate everyone.

"I saw something different: an opportunity. I was determined to find ways to capture the significant potential benefits that result from this unprecedented pool of talent and experience.

"I suppose my optimism about what can be achieved by older adults comes in part from watching my own father remain vital and engaged as he got older. He remained a fixture in civic life and an active philanthropist until he passed away three years ago.

"These are the experiences from my own family I brought with me to the Vital Aging Task Force. But how to translate it to public policy?

"Employers and nonprofits have to proactively create new approaches and change attitudes if we are to effectively engage this new, significant community resource. Ageism is a negative force in employment, especially when good jobs demanding skills and experience go unfilled. Aging is not a disability. It is not a disease. Older adults are a resource. They have knowledge. And they want to work.

"Harvesting this significant new resource requires leadership in planning, identification of achievable action steps and leveraging the unique contributions of government, business, philanthropic organizations, nonprofit agencies and the larger community.

"Portland has committed to this effort. Multnomah County has, too. Your work here today is part of our region's determination to be a place where people of all ages can live and thrive together.

"The good news: The changes needed in the workplace and civic organizations to engage older adults are very similar to those desired by the younger generation. Young, talented individuals are seeking out workplaces that offer the same kind of flexibility and work-life balance that is needed to maintain and attract older adults. Adapting models to include older workers will also help attract and retain younger adults as well.

"Further, active adults remain independent. Working adults create income. Vital aging sets in motion a cycle that is positive for society at large."


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