There is one thing that most people under the age of 50 don't think about, because they don't want
to think about it: getting old. To people in their 20s, 30s, even 40s, the "golden" years – the sometimes several decades that come after
the retirement age of 65 – are an abstract concept. It's something that happens, but not to us
Senior citizens are often removed from the conversation entirely in dialogues about economic growth and community development. They are relegated to the status of second-class citizens while the young creative class is celebrated and significant efforts are made towards attracting and retaining young talent – despite the fact that many twenty-somethings are by most standards low-income and roughly 3 in 5 admit to still being partially financially supported by their parents
But Americans over the age of 50 controls more than half of the nation's discretionary income, and in Michigan alone those aged 65+ boast a combined annual income over $37 billion, and tend to spend most of that money locally. They are not the economic drain they are often painted as being, and, according to the AARP, nearly 90 percent of seniors intend on staying right where they are for as long as they can – what is called "aging in place" – as opposed to running off to Del Boca Vista
or Shady Pines
By the year 2030, the year the last Baby Boomer turns 65, Michigan's population of persons over the age of 50 will hit 36.8 percent. The number of people over age 65 will double. This is a significant demographic shift that the state needs to prepare for, and the city of Auburn Hills is leading the charge.
Auburn Hills has been designated a “Community for a Lifetime” by the Michigan Office of Services to the Aging (OSA) and the Commission on Services to the Aging. The recognition is for the city’s efforts to be an aging-friendly community.
As part of a nationwide effort to respond to the needs of a rapidly aging population, the “Community for a Lifetime” recognition was established in 2007. Qualifying communities must conduct “a self-assessment or initiate an improvement that meets the program’s aging-friendly goals.”
Auburn Hills went through a six-month assessment identifying its areas of strength and its areas of opportunity that contribute to the quality of life for seniors, looking at numerous issues including walkability, access to health care, transportation, safety and security, housing, supportive community systems, commerce, enrichment and inclusion. The OSA noted that Auburn Hills’ strengths include a range of home chore services options, multiple community events to promote inclusion and civic engagement, and a comprehensive walkway system.
“As a city and a community we are constantly striving for inclusion of residents of all ages, but we never lose sight of the changing needs of residents as they age,” said Assistant City Manager Tom Tanghe in a press release. “With a walkable downtown, an active senior center and senior-focused activities, and numerous outreach services, including a Meals on Wheels program that delivered more than 10,000 meals to homebound seniors in 2012, the city is notably engaged in improving the quality of life for our senior community. We are honored to have our efforts recognized by the state.”
This is just the beginning of a five-year, four-stage process for the city, which includes the initial self-assessment, creating a plan of action, implementing the plan, and evaluating its performance. The City is working with a number of different groups on this long-term plan, including public officials, industry experts, and volunteers. They also encourage public input.
Michigan's senior community is something that should be celebrated, not ignored. Auburn Hills may be the one of first cities in Michigan to show such a commitment to those aging in place, and to being a place to age, but it shouldn't be the last.