The state slogan used to be “Iowa, a Place to Grow,” but some say that should be “Iowa, a Place to Grow Old,” as the state’s population is among the grayest in the country.
The state director of AARP Iowa is addressing a convention of Iowa architects today about the need to focus on senior citizens when creating our communities, not just young families. Kent Sovern calls it “age-friendly design.” “People want to live in their homes connected to their neighborhoods for as long as possible,” Sovern says. “The other element that’s really important is the social capital, the relationships with the faith-based communities, with their neighbors, with the commercial activities within their neighborhood are also very essential.”
It’s more than just building all ground-floor homes or using handles instead of door knobs. Sovern says sidewalks, streets and entire neighborhoods need to be designed for easy access and appeal not just for 30-somethings, but also for people in their 60s, 70s and 80s. “So much of what we’ve done in the last 30, 40 years has been centered around the automobile rather than around people,” Sovern says. “So, how do we shift our thinking to understand that we have to design, certainly for automobile access, but we also have to design things more on a human scale.”
Iowa’s population is consistently among the oldest in the county and is second only to Florida in the percentage of residents over the age of 85. Studies find that by the year 2030, all but seven of Iowa’s counties will have more than 25-percent of their populations over 65. Sovern says we need to plan ahead — now.
“Let’s change the way we think about designing, developing and planning for private and public improvements so that we can make all of Iowa a great place for all ages,” he says. About a thousand architects from across the region are in Des Moines as part of the two-day convention of the American Institute of Architects – Iowa Chapter.