"You can take the girl out of the city, but you can't take the city out of the girl," says Lila Sanger, who grew up in New York City and found her perfect retirement home in the Jefferson, an independent living condo complex in one of Arlington, Virginia's dense urban neighborhoods near Metro. "I chose the Jefferson for two reasons: the location, and the location."
The extensive county transit network provides almost door-to-door service to Lila's local haunts, such as the craft supply store or public library. For 75¢ using her smart card pre-programmed to apply her senior citizens discount, Lila can board her bus and be at her destination in 15 minutes. "I have only to walk through the park outside The Jefferson's front door, and I am at the Ballston Bus Terminal and Metro Station."
Lila is joined by hundreds of other older adults in the County who take advantage of Arlington's walkable neighborhoods nestled around subway stations, which double as hubs for local bus transfers. Not only can residents walk or roll to public transit options, a shopping mall, banks, restaurants, tennis courts, and a swimming pool are all within five blocks of the station. The benefits of these live, work and play neighborhoods are well known among young professionals, and there is increasing recognition of their benefits for retirees.
Known among city planners as transit-oriented development, or TOD, these neighborhoods offer great potential for independent aging. They can be scaled up or down for urban, suburban, and even rural town contexts, depending on the intensity of development a community desires and level of transit services available to serve the neighborhood.
In this short video produced by the AARP Public Policy Institute in collaboration with Streetfilms, Lila and four other older adults share their experience living in the Ballston TOD. The video also features the Arlington County officials who helped to plan the community and implement the programs that are discussed, and expert analysis from myself and Dr. Rodney Harrell discussing what this means for older adults. The personal narratives of this video complement my earlier research for the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission, which found that adults aged 75 and older living in one of these walkable, mixed-use neighborhoods were more mobile as a result of increased transportation options. They took 20 percent more trips per week than their suburban counterparts across Northern Virginia. Their share of transit trips outpaced those of older suburban residents 4-to-1. More striking was their share of trips on foot (22% versus 8%). Since the NVTC survey was conducted in 2005, public transportation use among older adults has only grown - nationally, by a whopping 40% among those 65 and older. Walking rates are up as well. TOD is a great planning tool to encourage active living by young and old.