What's Important to Older Residents? Just Ask!

AARP study asks people age 50+ what would make their community more livable

What makes someone age 50+ want to stay in their community - or want to leave? For most, the answer is feeling safe and having good schools.

Those are the two top answers from more than 4,500 people age 50+ surveyed for a just-released AARP Public Policy Institute (PPI) report on what older adults feel is important for what is termed a "livable community." (I'm guessing that excellent schools are connected to higher property values and perceived as contributing to a quality community.)

In the PPI report, respondents also valued streets that are easy to navigate and transportation for seniors and people with disabilities. And, add to the list:

  • good parks and libraries
  • affordable housing funding
  • more buses, subways and trains
  • nearby amenities like shops
  • money for home modifications for the disabled


Priorities ranked differently depending on people's circumstances, among other factors. For family caregivers and people with disabilities, for instance, police presence was the most important, followed by schools and special transportation services. Survey participants with no disabilities and non-caregivers ranked schools number one, police as number two, and streets that were welcoming to pedestrians, third.

"We took a special look at caregivers because it is such an important group for the future of communities," says Rodney Harrell, lead author of the study and senior strategic policy adviser for PPI. "As boomers age and the population gets older, many more people will find themselves in caregiver situations. So we wanted to see if they had particular needs around the community."

And? PPI found that caregivers and people with disabilities had many of the same views about what makes a place livable and desirable, but they were naturally more attuned to what made a difference in their lives, like special transportation services.

The survey reinforced findings from a 2010 AARP report, which showed that 86 percent of people want to grow old in their homes (a.k.a. aging in place) and 85 percent in their community. In this latest study, 87 percent of those age 65+ and 71 percent of respondents ages 50-64 said "yes" to staying in their community.

If 7 out of 10 boomers have no plans to move out of the area, it seems to me that their interest in staying put, along with their sheer mass, makes it especially critical to meet their needs so that they have that quality community. Statistic alert: A mere 17 percent plan to move in the next three years.

It goes without saying that what is good for older adults will be good for all ages: Better safety, schools, parks, transportation and affordable housing help young families and singles in all stages. Next year, AARP plans to use the findings from the PPI study to create a Web tool that will help people, regardless of age, see how their community stacks up as livable.

Sally Abrahms writes about aging and baby boomers. Follow her on Twitter.

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