By Roz Rogoff
Urban living and the aging populationUploaded: Sep 1, 2011
Don Weden, Retired Principal Planner, Santa Clara County Planning, gave a presentation at the last City Council meeting on "City for All Ages" about the needs of an aging population over the next 20 years. Weden explained that as people age they drive less and the suburban lifestyle built around the automobile is less suitable for older people.
I recall visiting older relatives in the 1950's when I was growing up. My family lived in the suburbs, New Rochelle, NY, which was made famous by George M. Cohan in his 1904 Broadway musical, "45 Minutes from Broadway." Cohan made fun of the rural lifestyle in New Rochelle then:
Only forty-five minutes from Broadway,
Think of the changes it brings;
For the short time it takes,
What a diff'rence it makes
In the ways of the people and things.
Oh! What a fine bunch of rubens,
Oh! what a jay atmosphere;
They have whiskers like hay,
And imagine Broadway
Only forty-five minutes from here.
Yes sophisticated New York City dwellers found suburban life rustic or quaint. Anything outside of a big city then was rural or agricultural. I remember even in the 1950's there was a big farm a few miles from my house where we could buy fresh fruits and vegetables.
After WWII suburbia happened. Instead of big cities and farmland, there was this in-between thing called the suburbs. This was where the folks who worked in the city could commute by train or automobile from a less congested environment where they could own a house with a yard but not need acres of land to live on. It was where I could walk to the elementary school three blocks away, or even the High School about one mile away.
My father's father and stepmother lived in Manhattan in an apartment on Central Park West. His mother and stepfather lived in Brooklyn. I don't recall exactly where. My mother's mother lived with us but she had a big family most of whom lived in New York City. We used to visit them in their apartment buildings in uptown Manhattan.
People who condemn urban living may not realize how easy and convenient it is to get around to everything you needed. Yes most people lived in high-rise apartments without yards, but my Grandparents lived across the street from Central Park. You can't get a bigger yard than that.
I don't remember if any of them had automobiles, but I recall going to a nice Chinese restaurant with my father's stepmother (she was a good stepmother) which was within walking distance of her apartment. My mother's Aunt Laura had a folding shopping cart she would take downstairs to pick up groceries at neighborhood markets near her apartment building. Everything was convenient to where they lived.
If they wanted to go downtown, there was a subway or a bus nearby. My father's mother lived near an El. The El was the elevated portion of a subway that was on tracks above street level. My grandmother could get where ever she needed to go on the El or transfer to one of the subway lines when it went back underground.
My grandparents were probably younger than I am now. I don't remember how old my Aunt Laura was or my various grandmothers and grandfathers, but as they aged the convenience of having everything nearby became more important.
Weden's presentation warned the City Council that planning must be started now for the aging baby boomers who will become less dependent on automobiles and need to be walking distance from stores, services, and public transit.
The City has at least two such plans already developed the City Center, which includes approximately 500 housing units with a block of those set aside for senior housing, and the North Camino Ramon Specific Plan, which integrates an estimated 1500 units for workforce and senior housing that would not require driving downtown.
One objection to the NCRSP was it would increase traffic on Crow Canyon Road, but it is designed to do the opposite. It will create a modern urban community, not as dense or as high rise as my great Aunt Laura or grandparents had in Manhattan, but just as convenient to shopping and employment for those who are still in the workforce. It's nice to live in such a forward-thinking community, but beware of those who want to hold back the future because it disturbs their present.
My mother who is 96 gave up her car a few years ago. I'm going to be 69 next month, and I don't drive as much as I used to. In the two years I've owned my 2009 Ford Focus I've put about 2000 miles on it. I also drive my 1973 Ford Maverick locally but less than 1000 miles a year.
In 20 years I'll be in my late '80's and will probably not drive much except my Maverick to the closest grocery store. My house is on a reverse mortgage so I won't move into a more convenient apartment, but I'm sure San Ramon will keep services up for seniors at the high level they are now. This is a great place to live for the very young, the very old, and everyone in between.