Older Americans are increasingly choosing the city for retirement, according to urban theorist Richard Florida in The Atlantic Cities blog. Couple this development with the fact that 10,000 baby boomers will turn 65 every day between now and 2013 2031, according to Florida.

Many of them will eschew sunbelt cities in Arizona and Florida for their retirement in favor of urban centers across the country. But despite a growing senior population, mayors, city councils and economic developers have “focused their efforts on making their communities great places for families,” Florida writes. Now, retroactively age-proofing cities may require not only a cultural shift, but a shift in urban design.

As Emily Badger wrote at The Atlantic Cities:

“We often talk colloquially about the ‘fast pace of city living,’ and that pace actually has a default speed: We’ve long assumed that people cross the street walking at about 4 feet per second.

Crosswalks are timed with this number in mind, so you don’t get clipped by a creeping car when the red hand starts flashing at you midway through an intersection. But the older we get, the more likely we are to slow down. Most 80-year-olds just don’t move at four feet per second.”

What’s more, Badger writes, walking may be one of the best ways for the elderly to stave off dementia. Badger cited a recent study by neuroscientist Art Kramer, director of the Beckman Institute for Advanced Sciences and Technology at the University of Illinois, which revealed exercise training can lead to improved memory and increased brain volume.

“Our results demonstrate that the size of the hippocampus is modifiable in late adulthood and that moderate-intensity aerobic exercise is effective at reversing volume loss,” according to the study.

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The Atlantic Cities also reports an enterprising San Francisco Department of Public Works employee turned the trunk of a damaged tree into a surprising, helpful piece of street furniture. Rachel Gordon, a spokeswoman for the SFDPW told John Metcalfe the resulting chair—an example of “some clever adaptive re-use,” according to the Project for Public Spaces—isn’t standard practice:

“While this is not typical, the cut was done by one of our artistic-minded employees,” Gordon told Metcalfe. “We have very talented arborists who can make beautiful benches and little chairs out of trees. Eventually, the stump will get ground out and a new tree will be planted, but for now, the creative bench can be enjoyed by neighbors.”

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Confidence among builders in the market for new, single-family homes reached a significant milestone in June, according to the National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index (HMI), released June 17. The index reached 52, an increase of 8 points, a reading which indicates builders views sales conditions as good.

From the HMI press release:

“This is the first time the HMI has been above 50 since April 2006, and surpassing this important benchmark reflects the fact that builders are seeing better market conditions as demand for new homes increases,” said NAHB Chairman Rick Judson, a home builder and developer from Charlotte, N.C. “With the low inventory of existing homes, an increasing number of buyers are gravitating toward new homes.”

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Previously, the NPR Cities project took listeners inside the Spanish city of Santander, a town studded with thousands and thousands of sensors reporting data on everything from garbage collection to air pollution to free parking spaces.

“Big Data,” as University of Rochester professor Adam Frank calls this next wave of so-called “smart cities,” has scientists and engineers anxious to remake urban environments into effective, responsive places that reshape the relationship to their citizens.

Tallinn, Estonia, the birthplace of video calling platform Skype, NPR reports, may be one of the world’s most technologically advanced cities:

“Tallinn residents depend on the Internet for just about everything, and automation is the rule. Riding the bus is free but requires a ‘smart card’ that you wave over an onboard sensor pad that allows central transit authorities to track your movements.”

The reason for the Estonians so-called “e-government?” Size.

“‘We are a small nation, and at the same time we have to develop a government that has same functionality as the big countries,’ explains Jaan Priisalu, who is director general of the Estonian Information Systems Authority, which has the task of protecting the country’s Internet infrastructure.”

He adds that with a population of about 1.4 million, there simply aren’t enough Estonians to run things.

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The views and opinions expressed here are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of Boise State University, the Center for Idaho History and Politics, or the School of Public Service.

  • TS

    Great post. The idea of seniors walking around the city, however slowly, invites some senior-friendly walks with benches and interpretive signage, perhaps with pictures of the street as it once looked. For example, we have plenty on great photos of teenagers cruisin’ Main in the early 1960s. Those people are approaching 70, and some are still in town. We also have yearbook class photos. Sound like a city-arts project on the baby-boomer streetscape.

  • Yes, it should be 2031… just fixed it. Thanks!