Different Generations, Similar Desire for Walkable Communities


H St NE neighborhood
Having opportunities for social interaction, access to public transportation and the presence of bike lanes help make communities more livable.

Comments on a blog post about a revitalizing neighborhood in Washington, D.C., claimed that older people often don't care about having amenities such as shopping and health care within walking distance. They can live in the suburbs and have everything they need. Affordable housing in urban areas, one person argued, better serves younger people who work.

But, as an author of the recently released AARP Public Policy Institute (PPI) What Is Livable? Report, I can tell you the opposite is true: Younger and older generations have many similar desires about what they want in their communities.

The report, based on polls about community preferences of older adults, shows that 8 in 10 people 65 and older want to remain in their communities as they age. Older renters, for example, rank affordable housing as their top priority for local investment.

Our investigation found that older adults in general rank the creation of pedestrian-friendly streets as the third most important community investment (after increasing police presence and improving schools). Both older drivers and nondrivers rank local investment in public transportation as one of the top five priorities for their communities.

Older adults want amenities close to home. Between 42 and 50 percent of older adults said they want bus stops, grocery stores, pharmacies and parks within a mile of where they live.

One place where old and young alike are enjoying the benefits of a walkable, livable community is along Washington's booming H Street NE corridor: a busy commercial district that for decades has been a popular destination for neighborhood residents. In recent years, new amenities have brought visitors to the area, sparked, in part, by national and local news stories.

Livable Communities features in the H St NE corridor
Bus shelters and marked crosswalks help to create a pedestrian-friendly environment.

Neighborhoods of lively streets full of pedestrians, a variety of shopping destinations, meeting places, housing, entertainment and good transportation all located close to home appeal to many people of all ages. Researchers have found that millennials and older adults, especially boomers, enjoy the features of neighborhoods like H Street.

Communities such as H Street are more than nighttime and weekend destinations . As a GenXer with a young family, I'm glad to have parks, libraries and entertainment venues close to home. I often see older neighbors taking advantage of the same conveniences I enjoy. They take the bus to work, and walk to go shopping or to school to pick up grandkids.

In addition, businesses see value in attracting a diverse clientele. For example, a dance studio partners with community groups to offer dance and exercise classes for older adult residents.

When envisioning future communities, we should not just assume that age differences mean conflicting preferences. Creating communities that cultivate a better quality of life is a goal shared across generations.

Livable Communities features in the H St NE corridor
Livable communities provide opportunities for people to walk to a variety of destinations.

Michael JN Bowles

    Shannon Guzman is a policy research senior analyst with the AARP Public Policy Institute, where she works on housing, transportation and land-use issues. Shannon focuses on policies and programs that create livable communities for people of all ages.

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