A Delicate Discussion

A Delicate Discussion

Today’s Washington Post has an article raising a subject that sometimes is uncomfortable: older drivers. As the more mature members of our community realize, even the best drivers’ skills often deteriorate over time. This poses an immediate and very painful dilemma for an alert, but frail, person. Driving, for many, equals independence. Losing the ability to drive, voluntarily or not, is perceived as losing some portion of life — not just freedom, as often portrayed, but parts of the things which make life still a joy to many who have seen much of it.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. In fact, through most of recent history it wasn’t like this at all. Before, say, 1950, most of the community opportunities at risk from aging were often nearby and easily accessible. If not by walking, which provided needed exercise and public interactions, then by community assistance or transit.

It is only because of the rise of the suburbs, where the automobile is king, that our seniors, as a group, have become so isolated. If you NEED a car and don’t have one, then life is harder. If you don’t have one and there’s no alternative readily available, that difficulty jumps in orders of magnitude.

Walkable, sustainable communities are often thought of as merely playgrounds for the young, drawing in those who will enrich our future. But they can also be places for those who have made the future possible. This is one reason why AARP has testified in favor of the White Flint Sector Plan.

White Flint is already home to some “aging-in-place” pioneers: The Grand condominium (a very active residential member of Friends of White Flint), for example, is home to an active, educated and mature population. Paul Meyer, who has participated in dozens of White Flint meetings as representative of the Grand, points out that most of the Grand’s residents moved there because it was within walking distance of the Metro, of shopping, and of amenities. Discussions with representatives of newly-opened properties indicate that many of the new units opening in White Flint are being snapped up by seniors, and in a greater proportion than predicted.

The Post article has a secondary headline of “Car-dependent communities can become a trap.” But there’s a secondary message in the article, conveyed nicely by various analysts from the Coalition for Smarter Growth: “We need more mixed-use, walkable developments in the suburbs so that seniors can downsize and still remain within their communities,” Steve Schwartz told the Post.

You can find the Post article here:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/12/29/AR2009122901256.html?hpid=newswell

Barnaby Zall

Barnaby Zall

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