Infrastructure

Old New York?

America’s largest city is going gray. As sociologist Sharon Zukin (full disclosure: Zukin spoke at Gelf Magazine’s Geeking Out: The Anatomy of the Big Apple, hosted by yours truly, last month) http://blog.oup.com/2010/10/age-and-the-city/ recently pointed out, is projected to rise 44.2% from 2000 to 2030. The reason? Not surprisingly, it’s the baby boom generation, which, while only arguably responsible for the national debt and Botox, will inevitably cause a substantial rise in elderly populations throughout the U.S.

What does this mean for New York, and other large cities? Will, as Zukin writes, Whole Foods Market at Union Square be empty by 3 p.m.? Though I don’t shop at Whole Foods, I wouldn’t mind living in a city where everyone runs errands on weekdays so much.

Sadly, for those of us braving lines at Key Food on Saturdays, New York is unlikely to become a retirement community. Though the over-65 population is forecast to rise quickly, it will still only be 14.8% of the city’s residents. That’s hardly enough to turn Manhattan into Del Boca Vista.

The crucial thing, though, is that is the share of elderly in 2030 will nearly equal the share of school-age children, projected to stand at 15.4% – as opposed to 17.2% in 2000. Zukin quite reasonably asks if this will cause money to shift from “chronically underfunded schools” to “chronically underfunded public hospitals and senior centers.”

Which points to the main problem: caring for all of those elderly people is really, really expensive. In “Toward an Age Friendly New York City,” a report on the city’s response to aging, one of many elderly people interviewed noted that in the past “you got school, health and dental. They should take care of us now.” While I certainly think we should care for our senior citizens, it must be noted that it is Medicare that is bankrupting this country, not TARP. Society surely has a responsibility towards its elderly, but the terms of that contract need to be renegotiated, and soon.

However, there are some things that we younger New Yorkers can do. Another respondent to the “Age Friendly”survey said “they won’t let senior citizens into those restaurants in the trendy areas.” I don’t know that they actually will not let senior citizens in – which would be pretty blatant age discrimination – but the next time I see an older couple in a trendy restaurant, I’ll smile and nod. I have no desire to live surrounded only by the young, hip and attractive. Contrary to popular opinion, this city is big enough for all of us, even if its budget isn’t.

Tags: new york, built environment, saskia sassen, vincent valk, medicare, baby boomers, elder care, gelf magazine