Graying New Jerseyans Rarely Live in ‘Aging-Friendly’ Communities

Colleen O'Dea | February 28, 2014 | More Issues, Social
Many residents 55 and older reside in towns that force them to rely heavily on cars, rather than mass transit

More than a quarter of New Jerseyans are in their AARP years, but comparatively few live in communities that are amenable to older people, a report by New Jersey Future found.

Creating Places to Age in New Jersey, released earlier this month by the organization that promotes smart growth, indicated that many of the places with large concentrations of people age 55 and older are not “aging-friendly” and those that are better designed for older people have smaller numbers of retirees and near-retirees. Places considered better for older adults contain a lot of services in a small area, have a mixed-use downtown, walkable street networks, and access to buses and other mass transit.

“The results should be cause for concern,” wrote Tim Evans of New Jersey Future in the report. “Among the findings: 30 percent of New Jersey residents aged 55 or older live in areas characterized by low-density and therefore primarily car-dependent development.”

One in eight people live in communities with no local bus services.

“New Jersey already has hundreds of thousands of older residents who are at risk of being isolated in places that do not lend themselves to getting around by any means other than driving,” the report continues. “And this number is likely to get bigger as the ranks of older New Jerseyans continue to swell.”

Members of the baby boom, the large group of Americans born between 1946 and 1964, are continuing to move into their retirement years in sizable numbers.

Several New Jersey Shore region communities are well-known for their retirement communities, and most of those scored poorly on New Jersey Future’s aging-friendly places. Of 18 municipalities where more than half the residents are age 55 and older, none rated excellent and only three Cape May County communities — Avalon, Stone Harbor, and West Cape May — rated very good. Mantoloking, where more than eight in 10 residents are older adults, scored 0, meaning it met none of the criteria for being amenable to those age 55 and older.

Meanwhile, places like Jersey City, Hoboken, Princeton, and new Brunswick are perfect for older adults but those age 55 and older make up less than 20 percent of the population in each of those municipalities.

To fix the imbalance, New Jersey Future recommends places that rated high should diversify their housing stock to increase the supply of housing units that retirees can afford and where they would like to live. And in the places with larger populations of older adults, officials should look to create new pedestrian-friendly downtowns and take other actions to make their communities better for their older residents.

“In any case, doing nothing is not an option,” the report concludes. “The graying of the populace is a statewide — indeed, nationwide — phenomenon. We need to start preparing good places for people to age.”