Smart Growth Helps Cities Adapt to Aging Boomers: EPA

This week the EPA announced the winners of the fourth annual Building Healthy Communities for Active Aging award. So what makes a community good for the elderly?

Charlotte skyline


As baby boomers age, the need for elderly friendly towns and cities becomes increasingly important. This week, the EPA announced the winners of the fourth annual Building Healthy Communities for Active Aging award. The award honors communities that are improving quality of life through “smart growth,” or growth designed to cut down on commutes and environmental harm; preserve open space; encourage community collaboration; and mix land uses.

Two communities–Charlotte, North Carolina and the Brazos Valley Council of Governments, Texas–won in the achievement category (for neighborhoods or NGOs that demonstrate excellence in building healthy communities for active aging). This is how they did it.

Charlotte took the award because of “new growth…concentrated in several key corridors and activity
centers that have created higher densities, mixed use development and a
more walkable community,” according to thet EPA. That growth includes 5,000 new housing units, sixteen miles of greenways, 88 miles of bike facilities, and 106 miles of new sidewalk. The city has also implemented senior-friendly improvements like subtly increased signage size and additional crossing medians.

Like Charlotte, the Brazos Valley Council of Governments regional planning association has installed plenty of bike racks and green spaces. But the area also has a significant obesity problem, so Brazos implemented a wheelchair accessible trail system at Wolf Pen Creek (a local park) as well as a fitness circuit suitable for
all abilities. The Brazos Valley Transportation Program also runs a door-to-door escort program for seniors. Run entirely by volunteers, the program provides 6,620 one-way rides each year to older residents who lack other means of transportation.

These developments hinge, of course, on the availability of funds. Smart growth for the elderly is nearly impossible for cities and towns that lack the cash to build miles of bike lanes and trail systems. But for communities that do have the cash, Charlotte and Brazos serve as examples of how to effectively cater to residents of all ages.

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About the author

Ariel Schwartz is a Senior Editor at Co.Exist. She has contributed to SF Weekly, Popular Science, Inhabitat, Greenbiz, NBC Bay Area, GOOD Magazine and more