Walkable Cities Mean Safety and Socialization for Aging in Place

Aging in place, which is valued by most seniors, can be ideal where shopping and services needed by older adults are within a reasonable walk of their homes.

While some older adults choose to live in planned senior communities, which are designed to meet their needs, others want the option to find their needs met in a more diverse and traditional community.

We recently spent some time in Savannah Georgia, exploring the city on foot. As much as I loved the feel of the city, the beautiful live oak trees with Spanish moss hanging regally and the ease of finding my way around the grid pattern, what struck me the most was how great it would be to live in place like this where everything you need is within a few blocks and was easy to access.

The streets, sidewalks, crosswalks and park areas were all well maintained and lit up. The signs were clear and made it easy to find the location I desired.

Wouldn’t it be great if everywhere we lived was like that? More importantly, wouldn’t it be fabulous if aging in place seniors could have that safety and convenience too?

City Planning

So many cities, large or small, have been built to accommodate our love of the road and our automobiles. Too few have no sidewalks or central amenities that can benefit our senior loved ones as they age.

Public transportation is missing in most big cities as well and if it is available it is located in the city center with few feeder lines out to the suburbs where they are needed to transport people without safe transportation options.

Hopefully that is beginning to change and cities are thinking to the future to retrofit places for our seniors to live and meet their needs locally.

Walkable Cities

Enter the concept of walkable cities. It is not a new idea but one that seems to be sparking the interest of cities across the country for not only retirees or boomers but also Millennials who seem to prefer this notion as well. Let’s get real, how can they continue to text on phones and other mobile devices and connect with their technology while commuting one hour a day to work behind the wheel?

The US Department of Transportation and Safety defines a walkable community to be “one where it is easy and safe to walk to goods and services (i.e., grocery stores, post offices, health clinics, etc.). Walkable communities encourage pedestrian activity, expand transportation options, and have safe and inviting streets that serve people with different ranges of mobility.”

What is contained in a walkable city for seniors?

  • Affordable, accessible housing
  • Plenty of public spaces for gathering and socialization
  • Buildings that are close to the street for best access, with parking lots in back
  • Seniors can walk to businesses, work, or church ideally the majority of destinations are within one half mile from their home
  • Adequate number of businesses to meet needs of seniors and amenities to encourage activity such as stores, grocery, restaurants, drugstore, library, post office, healthcare, culture, church, transit, parks
  • Streets include pedestrian paths, bike paths for walkers safety and transit systems
  • Sidewalks have plenty of space to maneuver, especially for disabled; paths are well maintained and free from cracks, roots, and plant intrusions; receptacles present to keep litter at bay; well lighted 24 hours a day; follow universal design so people of all abilities can safely access
  • Signage in place for clarity, cross walks were identifiable and synced with traffic signals
  • Drivers are aware of walkers and courteous; police enforce and patrol for safety; speed limit on streets is low
  • Pathways are free of obstructions such as utility poles and sign posts
  • Places for rest including benches and shaded areas are available

Benefits of a Walkable City

A city or community that is truly a walkable city, and not just a city with sidewalks, will have many benefits that are not just for the seniors who inhabit the town but also for the other residents and the city structure itself.

These are just some of the benefits that a city that is ‘walkable’ will give to all.

  1. It has been proposed that a well-designed and maintained walkable city will increase the value of surrounding properties and thereby tax bases for local cities who adopt this concept.
  2. Having areas that include small parks, benches and gathering spots for neighbors will encourage a sense of community and belonging that can improve the quality of life of seniors and all residents. Socialization and pride in the area will pay off dividends in more ways than one.
  3. Multi-generational activities will benefit kids, adults and seniors as we learn from and socialize with each other.
  4. More sidewalks and areas for pedestrians can also parlay into more bike lanes that are attractive to other citizens.
  5. When a city is walkable it should have well lit sidewalks to prevent accidents, falls and mishaps of all kinds. A great outcome of that is decreased crime as there are fewer dark places to hide.
  6. People who have areas that are pleasant and easy to walk around in safely are healthier. Physical activity is a goal for us all especially our seniors. They can’t do this when there is no safe place to walk. Encouraging health among it citizens has advantages to the healthcare system as well.
  7. Fewer cars on the road when people can walk to their destination can lead to an improvement in air quality.

Theory of Walkability

According to Jeff Speck, author of Walkable City-

“The General Theory of Walkability explains how, to be favored, a walk has to satisfy four main conditions: it must be useful, safe, comfortable, and interesting. Each of these qualities is essential and none alone is sufficient.

  • Useful means that most aspects of daily life are located close at hand and organized in a way that walking serves them well.
  • Safe means that the street has been designed to give pedestrians a fighting chance against being hit by automobiles; they must not only be safe but feel safe, which is even tougher to satisfy.
  • Comfortable means that buildings and landscape shape urban streets into ‘outdoor living rooms,’ in contrast to wide-open spaces, which usually fail to attract pedestrians.
  • Interesting means that sidewalks are lined by unique buildings with friendly faces and that signs of humanity abound.”

We hope to see more development and advances of walkable cities in the near future. The cost to upgrade the infrastructure for many cities would be worth the investment. However, that means that seniors will be willing to relocate from the suburbs or rural cities to a new location that could potentially help them age in place more successfully.

Change can be hard but in this case it might just be worth the effort for many of us.