Back to Library » Alliance for Innovation » An Aging Population…What’s a Local Gov to do? Plus, Millennials
Ellory Monks

Co-Founder of @TheAtlas4Cities. Yes: infrastructure, cities, environment. Also: USMC, real food, women engineers, Rice University. No thanks: running.

Created: Friday, May 17, 2019 | Updated: Friday, May 17, 2019

During one unConference session at TLG19, city participants discussed one question that looms in cities: how can we reach *everyone* with our services? One aspect of inclusion is age, because in many cities, two groups that are often most difficult to reach are aging populations & millennials. This unConference session focused on ways cities are rethinking programs and services to be more inclusive and better serve their millennial and aging population.

Unique Challenges to Engaging with an Aging Population in Cities

Cities are not often designed or developed in ways that have its aging population in mind. Though there are tons of examples of this, we talked about two major manifestations during the unConference session: parks and transit.

Many cities don’t have high rates of park usage by their aging population, even though the elderly are one of the populations that could benefit most from city parks (think outdoor recreation & community connections.)

Why? Because most city parks aren’t designed with an aging population in mind. There may be playgrounds, swings and water fountains, but there aren’t benches and other seating options on the way to and from the park.

#TLG19 unConference sessions, including how to be more inclusive of an aging population
Some of the topics discussed during Alliance for Innovation’s unConference sessions. You’ll see some of the age-related inclusion questions listed until Thursday at 10:30A!

Similarly, cities with an aging population have unique mobility and access challenges – cities are often left with legacies of unwalkable, spread out development without much public transit that can be very, very difficult to rectify. These legacies pose a unique burden on a low income and aging population.

The consequences are very real:

Seniors age 65 and older who no longer drive make 15 % fewer trips to the doctor, 59% fewer trips to shop or eat out, and 65% fewer trips to visit friends and family, than drivers of the same age (source: Aging Americans: Stranded without Options).

See this report from Transportation for America for an overview of the scope of this problem. And this essay from Strong Towns about the linkage between suburban poverty, an aging population and transit.

Unique Challenges to Engaging with Millennials in Cities

On the flip side, millennials pose unique challenges to cities. We have really different communication preferences than the generations before us and generally, we really don’t like formal activities that require advance commitment. For example, one specific issue discussed at the unConference is that most city recreation & educational programming requires residents to sign up for a certain number of weeks. At the library, for example, parents might be required to sign their child up for story time every Tuesday for six weeks. The group concurred that millennials seem to bristle at this kind of advance commitment.

Sharing & learning about approaches to a city's aging population
This what an unConference session looks like in real life! Lots of good sharing & learning about approaches to a city’s aging population. PC: Kirsten Wyatt via Twitter.

Approaches to Age Inclusion in Cities

City participants discussed many possible approaches to improving age inclusion in cities. Most of the approaches discussed reflect an assumption that before cities can make significant progress on matters of inclusion, cities need to make more of an effort to meet people where they are, and that means rethinking citizen engagement.

Approaches discussed included:

  • Prioritize infrastructure in equitable ways, especially with regards to things like sidewalk repairs in neighborhoods that have historically underserved populations
  • Create a youth advisory committee
  • Use digital engagement strategies like smart surveys, especially to get feedback from young adults
  • Make engaging with the city more FUN:
    • Use popups at existing events that already have high turnout: events at high schools, churches, libraries, etc.
    • Don’t just set up a table and stand behind it at events. Create ways for city staff to interact with residents more casually.
    • If your city is okay with it, alcohol can be a great way to open up engagement with otherwise-hesitant millennials.

Is age inclusion a challenge in your city? What approaches are working in your city and what approaches are you considering pursuing? Share in the comments!


H/T Greg Stopka (Strategy and Innovation Manager at Park District of Oak Park) for taking the lead on this discussion….and sharing his notes!

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