Ageing is an issue of growing concern in many developed economies. I had an opportunity to attend the Fall Conference of the Tennessee City Management Association (TCMA) in Knoxville where a presentation was given by Pat Hardy from UT-MTAS.
Age Distribution of Native Born US Population 2014 to 2060
His observation was that the baby boomers are now ageing rapidly and that city services had to evolve in order to not let the changes overwhelm their systems. He brought up 3 areas in particular where cities should direct their attention.
- Community Development - The state of Tennessee has no income tax and cities collects revenue from sales taxes, property taxes and in particular for rich elderly populations from the soon to be abolished Hall tax (on interests & dividends). Elderly populations tend to use more of city services but tend to pay less into them due to declining expenses. Accessibility will also become an issue with apartment style housing being prevalent in some cities.
- Parks & Recreation - With an increase in elderly populations, the need for parks & recreation also increases. Pat illustrated this with an example from Oak Ridge where several years back, seniors demanded to have their own Senior Centre, rejecting cost-saving proposals which co-located the Senior Centre with childcare facilities or the recreation centre. Developments such as these bring up the issue of how society should balance the needs of the young with the old.
- Public Safety - Pat shared statistics which showed that while seniors are more afraid of violent crime, they are more likely to be victims of non-violent crime, particularly that of fraud. Most of the police departments in cities are well trained to deal with crimes of violent nature, but the question remains if they will be able to deal with offences such as fraud and elder abuse.
One of the observations Pat made was that seniors tend to rank the loss of independence as a highest fear, followed by being placed in a nursing home and finally the loss of friends. The fear of death ranks rather low. All of the top 3 reasons are fundamentally about a fear of isolation. Coming from a highly populated city I can tell you that isolationism is not a function of population density. It is about human connection.
My takeaway was that building a stronger sense of community will be the bulwark against these challenges.