Streets for Older Adults

by Jason on April 10, 2012

I am extremely thankful for my time at the Alzheimer’s Association. Working in the outreach, advocacy, and development aspect of a non-profit has been invaluable to my professional growth. However, one of the greatest takeaways from that job was the development of sensitivity to older adult issues.

It even goes as deep as the wording. I hope I will always continue to call the aging population “older adults.” It just sounds better to me, and I wonder if people really do feel like seniors when they hit the age of 65, or why would you take out the word “adult” in the categorization.

Being involved in a complete streets audit course at San Jose State, my class was tasked to audit  the West San Carlos and Bascom Avenue corridor. My knowledge of the ingredients that make up a street were limited prior to the course, but complete streets is a fascinating and equalizing concept that addresses all modes of transportation. The audit itself was quite the task as I spent over 20 hours during my spring break to complete it. However, I’m glad that it was done, and I have learned so much doing so.

A lot happens at the street. In my time auditing, I’ve seen fights happen, road rage, and a plethora of disasters waiting to happen. Having experience with the needs of older adults, I also maintain a constant watch on issues that affect someone in an assistive mobility device or someone with visual impairment. I’ve seen three older adults linking arms, two with white canes, bracing against the wind and sidewalk with steep driveway cuts. I’ve also seen people in motorized wheelchairs or pushing strollers having difficulty navigating a sidewalk, or situations where there are streets are not ADA compliant. What happens if on a hot day with searing pavement someone in a wheelchair tips over because we have made sidewalks to accommodate cars instead of pedestrians? Disaster.

Maybe we are taking the concept of a concrete jungle too literally. Cities and streets need to be accessible for all, and it starts with how people get access from one place to another. Place-making can’t happen without a way to get there, and public places are meant for all to enjoy.

In my time at the Alzheimer’s Association, I’ve learned that some of the issues that come with lack of mobility or the danger to do so is isolation and depression. With the baby-boomer generation reaching the age of 65, we are in the midst of a “silver wave” that has and will continue to define how are cities are built. Beyond the infrastructure and fiscal strain and potential public health implications, continued segregation and inaccesibility of a city will compound the already complicated environment of caring for older adults. Attention needs to be brought to it in the present. We need to start thinking and planning in terms of people age 8 to 80, with access and places for all.


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