For years, the mantra for cities has been that we need to compete for young talent. We're just starting to understand the need to compete for experience and to accommodate the aging.
An interesting Associated Press story in this morning's State Journal describes how progressive cities like New York and Portland are starting to think about how well they work for the mass of aging Baby Boomers who will inhabit them.
There are 77 million of us Boomers born between 1946 and 1964. As we moved through life, we changed everything. When we were young adults, we changed social mores, higher education and politics. When we started families, we changed the way they function. Now that we're graying, we'll change the way we think about aging.
I know how annoying this is to our parents and our kids. Boomers can be obnoxious with our sense of self-importance. But you can't argue with the numbers. We are important because there's so damn many of us. Moreover, we have very different ideas than generations that came before us. (And, for the most part, I think you have to admit that we changed most things for the better. Please ignore the 1970s -- we made big hair mistakes, among others.)
This is an especially significant trend for Madison because college towns are attractive places to retire. You might think this is a problem or at least a challenge, but let's look at it as an opportunity.
First, things we do to accommodate aging (much like things we do to accommodate biking) are generally good for the community in general. The AP article points out that good urban infrastructure works much better for older folks then the traditional suburb. Any environment that doesn't demand driving everywhere and has good facilities for walking, biking and mass transit is good for older people. But it's also good for kids and for everybody else.
Also, and though the AP article misses this point, we shouldn't forget that many Boomers didn't drop their social activism as they got older -- or if they did do that to raise a family, they're ready to return to it now. That means there's tremendous potential for volunteerism on nonprofit boards, in tutoring, mentoring and lots of other things.
People of my generation have a huge responsibility. Because there are fewer folks behind us to support us as we age, we have a special obligation to stay healthy and to give back to our communities.
Cities that work for all generations will be the healthy cities of the future.