Archive for July, 2011

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NEW YORK (AP) — America’s cities are beginning to grapple with a fact of life: People are getting old, fast, and they’re doing it in communities designed for the sprightly.

To envision how this silver tsunami will challenge a youth-oriented society, just consider that seniors soon will outnumber schoolchildren in hip, fast-paced New York City.

This excerpt is how a recent AP article began, which got me thinking. Seniors have outnumbered schoolchildren in Sarasota for a long time, but how will our fair city handle increasing numbers of seniors in an era largely devoid of retirement? With social security dwindling and the 401k’s of many would-be retirees reduced to pennies, how will the new crop of seniors make their living?

It is worth considering what the needs of seniors are and will be, and how we might plan for them. No one wants to lose their independence, but shouldn’t seniors have more options for mobility than driving themselves? Bicycles could be a major part of the solution, but routes need to be safer and have more tree cover to protect from the sun and rain. Increased range and frequency of bus routes could also be good, but both come at a cost, and the city coffers are getting bare. What about some creative solutions that bypass the need for currency altogether? What about “exchange banks” in which services are bartered?

Density has been seen as a four-letter word by many Sarasotans…understandable when you consider how rapidly parts of the city have grown and how much of SRQ’s traditional village character has been lost in the process. But higher densities, if done right, can be much more humane for seniors, bringing shopping, services, activities, and neighbors within closer reach. Residents of Laurel Park and other downtown neighborhoods are fortunate to be able to not need a car for many daily activities, but most Sarasotans are not so lucky.

Maybe the focus shouldn’t yet even be on the answers but on the questions. Before much action can be taken, it would probably be best to involve as many people as possible in the conversation and to honestly assess how the future will be different than the past. Sarasota’s history of catering to seniors may prove to be an enormous advantage, and we might even find ourselves at the vanguard of demographic, economic, and social shifts.

Do you know of any innovative measures being taken locally? Are you part of any? Would you be willing to participate?

Some more of the AP article on the graying of American cities is excerpted below:

It will take some creative steps to make New York and other cities age-friendly enough to help the coming crush of older adults stay active and independent in their own homes.

“It’s about changing the way we think about the way we’re growing old in our community,” said New York Deputy Mayor Linda Gibbs. “The phrase ‘end of life’ does not apply anymore.”

With initiatives such as using otherwise idle school buses to take seniors grocery shopping, the World Health Organization recognizes New York as a leader in this movement.

But it’s not alone.

Atlanta is creating what it calls “lifelong communities.” Philadelphia is testing whether living in a truly walkable community really makes older adults healthier. In Portland, Ore., there’s a push to fit senior concerns such as accessible housing into the city’s new planning and zoning policies.

Such work is getting a late start considering how long demographers have warned that the population is about to get a lot grayer.

“It’s shocking how far behind we are, especially when you think about this fact — that if you make something age-friendly, that means it is going to be friendly for people of all ages, not just older adults,” said Margaret Neal of Portland State University’s Institute on Aging.

While this fledgling movement is being driven by nonprofit and government programs, New York aims to get private businesses to ante up, too.

Last year, East Harlem became the city’s first “aging improvement district.” Sixty stores, identified with window signs, agreed to put out folding chairs to let older customers rest as they do their errands. The stores also try to keep aisles free of tripping hazards and use larger type so signs are easier to read. A community pool set aside senior-only hours so older swimmers could get in their laps without faster kids and teens in the way.

On one long block, accountant Henry Calderon welcomes older passers-by to rest in his air-conditioned lobby even if they’re not customers. They might be, one day.

“It’s good for business but it’s good for society,” too, he said.

The size of the aging boom is staggering. Every day for the next few decades, thousands of baby boomers will turn 65. That’s in addition to the oldest-old, the 85- to 90-somethings whose numbers have grown by nearly one-third in the past decade, with no signs of slowing.

By 2050, 1 in 5 Americans will be seniors. Worldwide, almost 2 billion people will be 60 or older, 400 million of them over 80.

That’s almost always viewed as a health issue, preparing for the coming wave of Alzheimer’s, or as a political liability, meaning how soon will Social Security go bust?

“We think this is something we should be celebrating,” says Dr. John Beard, who oversees the World Health Organization’s Global Network of Age-Friendly Cities. “They need to live in an environment that allows them to participate.”

In East Harlem, a yellow school bus pulls up to a curb and 69-year-old Jenny Rodriguez climbs off. The bus had already dropped a load of kids at school. Now, before the afternoon trip home, it is shuttling older adults to a market where they flock to fresh fruits and vegetables. keep reading at yahoo.com



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Following up on the last post, the one about cities adopting a set of guiding principles, we’d also like to share this video from TEDtalks by Damon Horowitz. The entire talk is just over 15 minutes, and is well worth watching. Horowitz, a Silicon Valley technologist, begins by describing the sort of power that comes with technological innovation. He then asks how we should use that power. He shifts the question from the more common what can we do? to the thornier, but perhaps even more important, what should we do?

He then takes us on a quick crash course of ethical philosophy, from Plato to Aristotle to Kant and Mill, in search of a moral operating system—a formulaic procedure for determining right and wrong—that might mirror computer operating systems. And then things get really interesting…

I won’t spoil the rest, but I will say that this video is a splendid call to arms for reflection, consideration, and personal responsibility, and it is relevant to us all our lives. Enjoy!

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A friend sent me a link the other day to an article about the Dutch city Almere, a new city built on reclaimed land near Amsterdam. I’d read about Almere—a fascinating place from an urban planning and development point of view—before, but now I discovered that the city has hired American architect and urbanist William McDonough to help craft a set of principles that will guide future development. These have been called, logically enough, the Almere Principles:

1 Cultivate diversity

To enrich the city we acknowledge diversity as a defining characteristic of robust ecological, social, and economical systems. By appraising and stimulating diversity in all areas, we can ensure Almere will continue to grow and thrive as a city rich in variety.

2 Connect place and context

To connect the city we will strengthen and enhance her identity. Based on its own strength and on mutual benefit, the city will maintain active relationships with its surrounding communities at large.

3 Combine city and nature

To give meaning to the city we will consciously aim to bring about unique and lasting combinations of the urban and natural fabric, and raise awareness of human interconnectedness with nature.

4 Anticipate change

To honour the evolution of the city we will incorporate generous flexibility and adaptability in our plans and programs, in order to facilitate unpredictable opportunities for future generations.

5 Continue innovation

To advance the city we will encourage improved processes, technologies and infrastructures, and we will support experimentation and the exchange of knowledge.

6 Design healthy systems

To sustain the city we will utilize ‘cradle to cradle’ solutions, recognizing the interdependence, at all scales, of ecological, social and economic health.

7 Empower people to make the city

Acknowledging citizens to be the driving force in creating, keeping and sustaining the city, we facilitate their possibilities for them to pursue their unique potential, with spirit and dignity.

McDonough is best known for developing, with chemist Michael Braungart, Cradle to Cradle Design. Wikipedia describes C2C as “a biomimetic approach to the design of systems. It models human industry on nature’s processes in which materials are viewed as nutrients circulating in healthy, safe metabolisms…Put simply, it is a holistic economic, industrial and social framework that seeks to create systems that are not just efficient but essentially waste free.[1] The model in its broadest sense is not limited to industrial design and manufacturing; it can be applied to many different aspects of human civilization such as urban environmentsbuildingseconomics and social systems.”

What I find interesting about the Almere Principles is that they are descriptive, not prescriptive. They do not say what can or cannot be done; they don’t concern themselves with zoning or land use; they are not rules or plans, but rather—as the name says—principles. They define an ethical perspective, a filter of sorts through which all future development must pass. When proposals are put forth they can simply be evaluated in terms of whether they adhere to these principles or not. The Almere Principles could potentially streamline development while directing it towards ends that benefit the city in both the short term and the long term.

A document such as the Almere Principles also raises a discussion as to the responsibilities of local government. Should city officials simply be representative figures doing the bidding of their constituents? Or are they also stewards responsible for the long term health of a city? We call early civic leaders our founding fathers…should government still play the role of civic parent?

A document such as the Almere Principles makes me wonder whether Sarasota would benefit from a similar endeavor. Why wouldn’t it? What would these principles be? Do they already exist, unwritten? Who should decide which make the final cut? And how much authority should they have?

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