The Other Side of Anxiety? Realism. And maybe hope.

When the dust settles after the current traumas, I think we’ll see this time in our lives and in our nation’s history as a period in which what we’ve learned about human psychology, democracy and policy-making at every scale has exposed weaknesses in ourselves and our institutions that will take a while to fix. And that could be a good thing.

We’re wired to seek simple solutions, even when evidence suggests hairballs of complexity. And the more stressed we are, the faster we default to The Answer. Evolution encourages us to be hammers in search of nails. Needless to say, this has not always worked well for us. (See racism, genocide, xenophobia, etc. Also Urban Renewal and the 2016 presidential election.)

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The Unkickable Can: Towards a ‘Livability Synthesis’

Maybe it’s a brief glimpse, inspired by Pope Francis’s visit, of a collective will to be better humans. Or maybe it’s just the math. But I’m feeling more hopeful about future traction for arguments — and for action — for more meaningfully connected, livable communities.

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Connections, Community, and the Science of Loneliness

On my last trip to see my aging parents, I was struck again by the loneliness that comes from diminished connections. They are both inspiring people, and in their younger years were notably adept at making connections with and for others. And at helping people see the good in each other, in themselves, and in the communities they call home.

However, over time those connections are slowly dissolving. While there’s little to be done at this stage, this experience reaffirms the expediency of staying connected as long as we can to all the networks – internal and external – that make for wellness.

The process of saying “what if” does little good. However, I can’t help myself.

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Crowdsourcing = Data = Better Places

You know what the payment is for crowdsourcing? By asking other people to step up and think through solutions to some collective problem, I must commit to making a difference myself.

Every time I’ve asked you to share information with me, you have. Then I feel the need to compile it, analyze it, and organize it into a useful tool. I often get behind in answering all of your individual emails – thanks for all you send – but the power of your collective comments comes through loud and clear.

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Serving the Needs of Seniors: Solutions in practice

Last month we talked about Connections, Community, and the Science of Loneliness, in which I lamented my parents’ generation lack of active communities geared toward people of all ages. Since then, I’ve looked a little more deeply into some of the newer neighborhoods designed around livability, to see which of them are offering especially graceful aging options.

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The End is Near, Part II: Leveraging imminent doom as ‘Grand Strategy’

This is maybe one of those be-careful-what-you-wish-for moments. But I’m spinning it upside all the way.

In one previous post, I griped about planning’s synaptic delay dilemma. When it comes to the really big issues of our time, the time lapse between doing stupid stuff and suffering the consequences is too great to dissuade us from doing stupid stuff. (See, for instance, three-pack-a-day smoking, triple-decker cheese burgers and sprawl.)

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Atlanta, AARP, DPZ Attack Challenges of Aging in Place

The New Urbanist mantra for neighborhood planning is to go for compact, connected, and complete. Well, one critical component of completeness, that of making communities comfortable – and practical – for residents of all ages, has been sort of assumed by NU planners. Yet it’s taken an effort by the nation’s primary advocacy group for seniors, AARP, to make the idea of “Livable Communities” for aging in place a planning priority.

Can community design impact one's ability to age in place? The ARC is examining how.

Can community design impact one's ability to age in place? The ARC is examining how.

Integrating that priority into master planning for real places is getting its first major test with a Lifelong Communities Charrette in Atlanta, Feb. 9-17. The Atlanta Regional Commission (ARC), which coordinates planning for the 10-county metro region, is behind the project, with AARP as one of its partners. Duany Plater-Zyberk & Co. (DPZ), led by Andres Duany, will provide the design and planning expertise. Together they hope to make solid headway on an issue that will only loom larger moving forward.

The charrette targets five sites in the region, selected for their potential to represent typical challenges to aging in place and for communities’ willingness to embrace walkable, mixed-use, mixed-generational solutions to those challenges. How DPZ approaches the project and the plans that emerge from it are likely to provide models for similar efforts in other places. Lots of other places. Here’s why:

In 2008, the oldest members of the Baby Boom Generation became eligible for Social Security. The whole generation, 76 million strong, will have turned 70 by 2034. And if we’re not able to reverse the dominant trend of suburban sprawl and its near exclusive reliance on automobiles for mobility, we will make aging gracefully at home in America difficult for even well-off seniors and all but impossible for the majority of older people.

Flunking the aging-in-place test not only means an increased burden for family care-givers and public programs (and therefore tax-payers); it also means the loss of good neighbors and productive citizens who could live independently longer in their own homes and neighborhoods if their communities planned for walkability, diverse housing choices, and mixed-use.

In addition to AARP, healthcare and public safety experts have been connecting the housing issue with aging in place challenges for most of the last decade. You can read working papers from Harvard’s Joint Center for Housing Studies here. Included among those papers is one on “Aging in Place: Coordinating Housing and Health Care Provision for America’s Growing Elderly Population” by Kathryn Lawler, who’s one of the planners of the Atlanta Regional Commission project.

We’ll follow the ARC/DPZ charrette in blog posts to follow. In the meantime, care to shake this story up a little?  Then share your comments below.

- Ben Brown