Planning for all age groups is an inviolable principle; in practice, however, planners have been unduly preoccupied with certain age groups. Like the post-war housing boom, the approach to community development and planning has been child- or family-centered. Most significant advances in school and recreation planning, in subdivision design, and even in neighborhood planning, sprang originally from a conception of the needs of the young family with children.
And yet we live in an aging society. A society that can boast now of not three- but four-generation families — with one out of three persons now reaching the age of 60 having a living parent or close relative who is 80 years old or more (Weaver, March 26, 1961 speech). A society that has witnessed a remarkable transformation in the past 60 years. Whereas only one out of 25 persons was 65 years or older in 1900, today that ratio has dropped to one out of 11 (New Population Facts on Older Americans, 1960). And some demographers estimate that by the year 2000, one out of every seven persons will be in the elderly bracket (Sheldon, 1960, p.50).
The impact of this pronounced shift in age composition on community services, on urban form and on economic activity is beginning to be realized. For the community planner, sooner or later, it will necessitate some reshuffling — discarding some outmoded theories, recasting some tenuous theories, and originating some new theories.
Traditionally, planners relegated older persons a few cursory sentences in the comprehensive plan report; the number and possibly per cent of older persons was mentioned, but rarely did subsequent proposals and plans reflect this analysis. Only now is there evidence that the elderly are coming in for more searching appraisal.
Many questions are being asked — some simple, some complex — to which planners can help find answers. What qualities of a community make it more livable for older persons? Should a dispersal or concentration of older citizens be encouraged? Given their diverse backgrounds and characteristics, what kinds of housing and community service accommodations do older people need? Where should housing for the elderly be located? To what extent should urban renewal account for older persons? Should zoning and subdivision control regulations be modified to accommodate housing developments for the elderly? Should local policy encourage the building of special housing units for the elderly or increase their economic capacity to compete for housing in the open market? What impact will an increasing number of older persons have on the local economy, the transportation system?
If the aged were no different in character and kind from other age groups, then there would be no need to consider them as a separate group deserving special consideration in the planning context. But there is a growing body of evidence that the process of aging, in which there is a gradual attrition of physiological and mental faculties as well as economic resources, has definite implications for environmental planning. It is an oversimplification to conclude that planning, as it is presently conceived and carried out, will automatically meet the needs of elderly citizens; if anything, some fresh thinking is required.
As background and setting for this report, both the factors accounting for the current, widespread interest in problems of the elderly and a review of significant developments in the field of housing for the aged will be discussed. The special focus, however, is on the planning agency in terms of what it is doing and how it can augment its efforts to help meet the community's responsibilities vis-a-vis its elderly citizens. In this connection, the findings of a survey of 30 planning agencies will be reported.
New Interest in the Old
Over 20 years ago, a well-known sociologist, Robert Lynd, wrote perceptively of the place of the elderly in the society of his day:
The stress upon mobility rather than upon deep-rooted continuity, upon action and scientific technique rather than wisdom, upon change rather than growth, upon winning and holding status rather than receiving it freely granted at the hands of one's fellows, tends to displace men and women of advanced years in favor of their juniors. In such a culture, "venerability" has lost its meaning and old age its function. (Lynd, 1939, p. 93.)
On the whole, this description is still valid today; if anything, the status of older persons has declined even more so.
Paradoxically, however, there has been a tremendous surge of interest in the problems of the aged. Reams and reams of conference proceedings have been published, countless studies have been undertaken, numerous public and private actions have been initiated. No fewer than 13 federal agencies administer programs which influence the affairs of the aged (Cottrell, 1960, p.639). Moreover, the media are sprinkled with reports of new social security, employment, medical aid, and housing programs for the elderly. In appraising this new interest in the aged, however, one strong supporter of increased benefits for the elderly warned that "in spite of the many surveys, books, and conferences on aging, the greatest accomplishment to date has been the output of words" (Fogarty, January 8, 1958 speech).
The elderly themselves are beginning to make their 16,000,000 numbers felt both through social and political pressure. Social gerontology, a new science, has attracted persons from many disciplines who are directing their research efforts to the problems of the elderly. Builders and developers are discovering the economic potential of the retirement market. And government on all levels, spurred into action, has begun to put into effect special programs for the aged. Several factors, to be discussed under the following headings, account for this widespread convergence of interest in the elderly during the past decade: 1) impact of the elderly, 2) societal responsibility, and 3) a problem group.
Impact of the Elderly
Undoubtedly, a major explanation for the current attention riveted on the elderly stems from their sheer increase in numbers. They loom larger and larger as a per cent of the national population, of state and city populations, of rural populations.1 Advances in medical science, accounting for a steadily declining mortality rate and a corresponding increase in life expectancy, give rise to this phenomenon.
Many states exceed the national average for persons 65 or older, with the highest per cent of older persons found in the New England and the Midwestern plains states (see Table 1). Actually, if persons 65 or over were computed as a per cent of total population, 21 years of age or more, then roughly one out of every six persons would be in the elderly bracket.