Proximity to toilet paper.
That’s how Zachary Benedict, a partner at MKM Architecture + Design in Fort Wayne, Indiana, measures a neighborhood’s walkability, and therefore, its suitability to the senior citizens he believes will be the salvation of Indiana’s small towns and cities.
“What neighborhood do you know has toilet paper in walking distance?” Benedict asked at TEDxFortWayne in 2012, waving his arm. “You NEED that to live.” It’s something many of his peer architects rarely consider.
But Benedict is convinced that will soon have to change. Over the next 15 years, 10,000 Americans will turn 65 every single day. By 2030, 20 percent of the U.S. will be senior citizens, compared to 13 percent today. Cities will have to adapt, not just to a growing population of elderly, but to the baby boomers’ idea of what it means to be elderly, which is already proving to be different than previous generations’ ideas. Forget about bringing Bob Dylan to the nursing home — AARP has found in study after study that baby boomers want many of the same things as millennials. They want to be mobile and social, with easy access to bus stops, grocery stores, parks, pharmacies and hospitals. It’s not just a matter of taste, but a practical necessity. The average senior outlives his or her driver’s license by six to 10 years, said Rodney Harrell, director of livable communities for AARP. Those who can afford it are moving into cities while those who stay put in the suburbs are demanding their neighborhoods urbanize — a demand Benedict believes such suburbs ignore at their peril.
“I can’t rectify my brain how they survive without dealing with this issue,” he said.
Nowhere is this work more critical than in Indiana, where the population is aging faster than the rest of the country. Between now and 2040, Indiana’s population will grow by 15 percent. The state’s population of residents 65 and older will grow by 90 percent. Those converging demographic trends put Indiana squarely in the crosshairs of one of the largest migratory shifts in American history — one that the state needs to get out ahead of now.