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Considering the future of towns for aging residents

Take a walk through the town of Milton or Ellendale, Georgetown or Millsboro, and ask yourself what will this town be like in 10 years? Take a look at the people, the houses and the businesses, then put on your City Planner hat and think about how you would create a downtown where people will want to live, work and socialize ten or twenty years from now.

What do we know about the people who will want to live in our cities and towns? What will they need? Do we have the right mix of housing and businesses, retail shops and restaurants? Most of the existing inventory of homes is traditional two story houses without first floor bedrooms and without elevators. How is that going to work as the residents continue to age?

What we need to do is retrofit our communities and transform them into ageless communities that are suitable for everyone, according to Bob McNulty, President of Partners for Livable Communities . The housing market has changed and we need to take advantage of the opportunity to both retain and attract people of all ages to move into our cities and towns.

We need to move from a focus on keeping things the same to adapting what we have to meet future needs. We can encourage renovation of in-town houses to better suit our older citizens need for one-level living, with the availability of accessory apartments on the second floor or a carriage house on the property. Accessory units can house caregivers or be rented to generate retirement income to support independent living. We can also encourage developers to build duplexes or patio homes within town limits. The style and architecture can be designed to fit the look of the neighborhood or historic district and still work better for the fastest growing segment of our population.

Can we turn the inevitable into a positive? Where can we look for some good examples of how others have seized the opportunity and reinvented their cities and towns? St. Petersburg, Florida, wants to be a Creative Arts Center while accommodating older citizens. They turned their downtown arts district into a creative stew, says McNulty, where artist housing and housing for older citizens is right next to the Art Galleries in the Cultural Center of town.

In Battle Creek, Michigan, vacant downtown buildings are being converted into loft style living with elevator access to all floors and retail shops and restaurants on the first floor. These and many other success stories are detailed at the organizations web site .

Awareness of the impact the aging population will have on our cities and towns is just a trickle now but in 3 years it will become a major civic agenda, McNulty continues. We can take advantage of this opportunity and work with the changing demographics, or we can continue to look backwards and do things the same way we always have.

Kathy Sperl-Bell is a Seniors Real Estate Specialist, a licensed Realtor with ReMax Coast & Country and owner of Gotcha Covered. She can be reached at

This Article appeared in the Delaware Coast Press, September 7, 2005.