This past weekend PBS aired a one-hour documentary on America’s shifting demographics and the implications of our aging society. Coming of Age in Aging America delves into challenges Americans will face as we live longer and our older population increases. We live in uncharted seas, the first time in history that significant numbers of Americans are living beyond age 65, to 80 and even 100 years-of-age. Neither government policy nor society has kept pace with our new aging paradigm. As a nation, we have yet to reckon with this new reality.
The film inevitably examines transportation and the pitfalls of our car-centric suburban life. Such design has serious implications for older people, it points out, and many are left isolated. New design approaches, planning and development are necessary if we are to build communities accessible to and welcoming for older residents. Indeed, the film argues, America needs to examine its entire relationship with aging, from education to career to retirement, because the old models don’t work. And while Baby Boomers are the first generation to far outlive their predecessors, they won’t be the last: Every generation going forward is likely to reach their 80s and 90s, and for life to remain rewarding and accessible for older people, society has to embrace their needs. That means moving beyond our automobile-obsessed transportation system, among other things.
This is a point ITNAmerica has been making for decades. We’ve spent 25 years expanding car culture to meet the need of older people and their families. We do it through paid and volunteer staff, through technology and by accessing social capital. We work to ensure our members aren’t stuck inside just because of their age.
We look toward a future where our transportation system works for everyone, regardless of age, eyesight or ability to drive. It is not possible to overestimate the scale and scope of this issue, or to try too hard to communicate it well. The very picture of America’s success is the suburban lifestyle — the house, the cars, the grassy lawn — but it’s a picture that today is proving untenable without addressing our transportation needs. Coming of Age in Aging America lays the conflict bare.
Above is an abbreviated version, an illustrated synopsis laying out the film’s major points, but the full film is available free online for the next month. To watch requires a password — Aging— and it is viewable here. Take the time to watch it, and then together we can consider a path forward.