Publication date: September 2019
Source: Journal of Aging Studies, Volume 50
Author(s): Stephen M. Golant
Most older persons (age 65 and over) in the United States occupy suburban residential areas. Distinguishing where the older population lives is important because critics argue that the built environments of their suburban communities make it difficult for them to age in place successfully, that is, to have healthy, independent, active, and enjoyable lives. They point to their low population and building densities, long distances separating their residences from services, amenities, and commercial areas, and few transit and walking options. Consequently, when the mobility limitations of older residents prevent them from safely driving their vehicles, they have difficulties reaching destinations outside their homes (mobility behaviors) to satisfy their discretionary and obligatory needs. This paper questions this suburban bashing. It argues that future cohorts of older people, especially women, will be more able to drive, cars will be technologically safer and easier to operate, and ride-sharing options will be more available. More suburbs will also have mixed-use and pedestrian-accessible built environments reducing the need for vehicular travel. Most importantly, the information, activities, goods, services, and care required by older people to age in place will be delivered to their dwellings. Home sharing, home care, internet connectivity, e-commerce, social media, smart homes, telemedicine and robotic technologies will make the mobility or out-of-home behaviors of older residents less necessary. The paper introduces the constructs of connectivity options and connectivity behaviors to encompass these expanded travel and in-home delivery strategies. These new ways of connecting with their environments will result in more self-reliant older persons who are less constrained by their mobility limitations. These conclusions offer insights for planners and policymakers seeking to make their suburban communities more age-friendly. They must keep pace with the changing ways that older people will access their environments if they are to improve the quality of their lives and help them to age in place successfully.