Resource Center

Aging: A Collective Response

One of the things I appreciate about the new book “Independent for Life: Homes and Neighborhoods for an Aging America” is the sheer amount of information it collects in one handsomely designed paperback.

When it comes to the issue of aging in place, or coming as close as possible to that sometimes elusive goal, you may have previously encountered some of these ideas, findings and case studies in journals or on various Web sites (and in this blog) over the past few years. But few of us can track all those developments, suggestions and experiments, so it’s useful to have so much knowledge assembled here.

Published by the University of Texas Press with support from several foundations, and edited by Henry Cisneros, a former secretary of Housing and Urban Development, and two senior researchers from the Stanford Center on Longevity, “Independent for Life” gathers stellar contributors from a variety of fields. The authors research many aspects of aging, yes, but they’re also experts in economics and finance, technology, architecture and interior design, housing development, city planning and, not least, politics.

It’s interesting to hear from a contractor who retrofits homes, an urban planner discussing neighborhood walkability, and the mayor of Chattanooga explaining, after public officials agreed to spend a day in wheelchairs, how the city has improved access and infrastructure.

If we’re going to come up with better approaches to the challenges (and opportunities) of an aging population, we’re going to need these sorts of pragmatists and their brainchildren.

Which leads to the second strength of “Independent for Life”: In a universe where individuals and their families are expected to shoulder so much responsibility with so little coordinated help, the authors and editors clearly see responding to unprecedented, seismic demographic change as a collective social issue.

The book includes long lists of ways to make one household safer and more pleasant for elderly occupants with physical or cognitive limitations, but it doesn’t stop there. How can we adapt whole neighborhoods and communities? How do we pay for that? What kind of political strategies and alliances will help move us in that direction?

Permit me a boomer metaphor. Most books on these subjects take the implicit perspective that providing good lives for old people happens family by family: to take the Shirelles slightly out of context, “Baby It’s You.” These authors favor the Beatles’ “All Together Now,” and that’s a welcome view.

And, yes, I do remember that the Beatles also recorded “Baby It’s You.” It’s a metaphor.