Aging in Place- Opportunity in Detroit

by Louis on October 22, 2010

Paul Bridgewater, the head of the Detroit Area Agency on Aging is excited about improving the city,  the neighborhoods but mostly the lives of Detroit’s older citizens. Many would expect him to be depressed. The statistics for Detroit’s elderly are in line with the employment, economic, literacy and other indicators. Dreary.  But Bridgewater is working with Detroit Mayor Bing to plan a better future.

Mayor Dave Bing‘s Detroit Works program may be the largest, most inclusive strategic planning process ever undertaken. But Bing, a former Pro basketball player AND successful businessman has the moves and experience to take bold steps. He is relying on the formerly great city’s chief assets..people, cultural diversity and LAND.  The Detroit Works website reads like the plan for any strategic planning process, but it is about a whole city! You may think of Detroit as nothing but insurmountable problems, BUT serious situations like Detroit call for strong, innovative and fearless leadership. Bing has the guts to attempt it. He needs guts to pull it off, too.Bridgewater is no Pollyanna with rose colored glasses. He is responsible for the incredible Dying Before Their Time Report- The Startling Truth About Mortality and Detroit Area Seniors documenting what those of us not too ashamed to think about it might suspect. Bridgewater has followed up with Transforming Long Term Care in Detroit and a related Public Policy Agenda, both downloadable from DAAA’s home page. The situation is not pretty and is compounded by the regional decline of the auto industry AND the Great Recession. But when it seems like down is the only way to go some folks look for the silver lining. Bing and Bridgewater are those kind of folks.

So what is Detroit’s great opportunity? Because the existing Long Term care facilities are so bad Detroit can leapfrog the suburban style isolated facilities many find so undesirable and expensive and create an infrastructure for Aging in Place. They have blocks of homes and vacant parcels in urban grids with curbs, sidewalks and water service- the physical structure of neighborhoods. Detroit has the assets many other cities want. The latest urban planning trends- New Urbanist, livable communities* and the like, call for walkable blocks, age integrated neighborhoods, and efficient services offered in senior’s homes. Detroit has school and commercial buildings situated throughout walkable neighborhoods to set up model health/wellness/techno-monitoring/senior activity/intergenerational, etc, etc. programming. They don’t have to build what everyone else is trying to avoid using..Detroit already has what everyone else wants!

I was lucky to spend a pleasant visit with Bridgewater in his office near the new ball parks this week to discuss his vision in light of the Aging in Place 2.0 study I wrote in conjunction with the MetLife Mature Marketing Institute.

I know and love Detroit from my days in Ann Arbor and environs. The city has a contagious spirit that will not quit. It is worn and down, but not out! I will stay in touch with Paul and have a hand in radical change in the interest of Detroit Area Seniors.

* A livable community has affordable and appropriate housing, supportive features and services, and adequate mobility options for people, regardless of age or physical ability.

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