When I was in the military, we lived in San Antonio, TX for several years while Henry Cisneros was Mayor. Later on, Mayor Cisneros became Secretary of Housing and Urban Development under President Clinton and now is a very outspoken advocate of Community Design and Planning, especially planning and design for Aging in Place and Communities for All Ages.
As a former aging services provider and senior housing financing specialist, I am especially interested in Secretary Cisneros’ ideas on how we, as a nation and as a generation of Baby Boomers might go about creating these intergenerational communities and Cities and Communities for All Ages. I am in complete agreement with the Secretary when he states that, “…that we as a nation need to examine the ways that we can modify or build homes and communities to support aging in place for an unprecedented number of older Americans.”
In an article he authored last May ’12 for Route 360, Secretary Cisneros gives several key ingredients that he believes are critical to the success and advancement of Community Planning and the creation of communities that will benefit and enhance the lives of Older Americans. These key principles are:
- Essential support systems for aging Americans must be planned regionally (like mass transit, which is key for seniors).
- At the neighborhood level, we must consider the size and organization of urban neighborhoods, which have direct implications for seniors living at home. They need to be able to walk to essential services, so a neighborhood must include a mix of homes, retail stores, eating and recreation sites, and public gathering places.
- At the level of the individual building unit or home, we must stress designing and locating dwelling units so that the community has a mix of types and price points, which grants older persons the freedom to choose from a variety of housing options.
- One innovation for aging residents who wish to continue working in a small, self-employed setting is the live/work flex house, a dwelling that includes a workspace. Such mixed uses create places where older persons can comfortably pursue careers.
- One of the dominant forms of urban development going forward is going to be residential over retail. It will be economically successful, it will enhance communities, and it will promote walkability and other desirable principles that residents are seeking.
- As our country recognizes the growth of its senior population, it is important that we plan and build our homes and communities accordingly.
- The federal government’s housing-finance agencies should establish priorities related to age-appropriate housing. In so doing, they would stimulate interest on the part of the lending sector and make it possible for builders to provide that housing.
For me, I find Secretary Cisneros’ attitude inspiring and hope people in Washington and at state and local legislative and planning levels are listening.
I’m interested in what you think about his ideas. We talk in this blog about staying active and healthy. Living in communities where it’s easy to walk and bike would certainly help us with those goals. How do you feel about where you live now? Do you have mass transit easily available? If so, do you use it? How about living in mixed generational neighborhoods? Would you enjoy that or would you prefer adults only? And why? I’m not taking a survey, I’m just interested.
Urban and community planning for the generations is something of a hobby of mine. Making a community people-friendly isn’t about who is living with a disability or who isn’t. After all, it’s just as easy to make the letters on a sign bigger as it is to make them smaller. It’s also just as easy to make the crosswalk signal last a little longer so the mother with three toddlers and hands for only two has a little longer to cross the street just like the older gentleman who doesn’t walk as quickly as he once did does.