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November 17, 2016
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Big Ideas forum discusses aging, life for millennials in 2050

On October 27, 2016, about 100 attendees joined CMAP on the University of Illinois at Chicago campus for the latest ON TO 2050 Big Ideas forum, "Designing the Future: Gen X and Millennials in 2050." 

Led by moderator and UIC professor Janet Smith, the panel -- Matthew Phillips, executive vice president at Senior Lifestyle; Shelley Stern Grach, director of civic engagement at Microsoft Chicago; and Heidi Wang, associate principal at Worn Jerabek Wiltse Architects and AIA Design for Aging Co-chair -- delved into the technology, housing, transportation, and infrastructure that tomorrow's seniors will need as they age.

In the realm of senior housing, Phillips said that innovative ideas such as downsized micro-units could reduce costs and give seniors a dorm-like community experience in urban areas.  He added that topics popular with young people today (such as buying local food, cultural experiences, and wellness) will likely continue to be important to that population in the future.  "We have to think about what the customer will want in 2050, now," Phillips said.

Wang said architects will need to respond to a growing senior population with universal features that meet Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requirements while being integrated smoothly into the design of facilities.  "It's an architect's challenge to make design universal to everyone, but not stigmatizing," Wang said.  She added that the idea of "aging in place" may change as a generation of Americans who enjoy moving around frequently gets older.  It's unclear if that would mean some kind of "timeshare" modeled on AirBnB or more short-term leases to allow mobility.

The panelists agreed that technology will have a growing influence on the lives of seniors, from video capabilities that will help them stay more connected to far away friends and family to the possibility of automated cars that could transport people to medical appointments after they can no longer drive themselves.  Grach added that healthcare is already being transformed by technology and developments will continue to change the way we age.  But with an increased dependence on technology, she warned, more attention must be paid to issues of security and privacy for seniors. 

The panelists said more discussion is needed on several topics, including how climate change will influence where people live and how to make developments in technology, transportation, and housing inclusive and available for all seniors.  Wang and Grach agreed that technological advances may help reduce assisted living expenses, but building new housing for seniors is an expensive task.  Phillips said that as the number of seniors, especially those of low-to-moderate income, grows, the importance of government subsidies to help make building affordable senior possible will be equally important.  Lowing parking requirements for senior housing developments as new generations drive less, use car-share programs or explore automated vehicles, could also help bring down costs, he said.

More information can be found in CMAP's Aging in Place white paper.

Join CMAP at the next ON TO 2050 Big Ideas Forum: "Development at the Edge: The Future of Regional Urbanization" on Tuesday, December 6, from 4:00 to 5:30 p.m. at Two Brothers Roundhouse (205 N. Broadway, Aurora). Panelists will include Chuck Marohn, founder and president of Strong Towns; Collete English Dixon, managing principal, Libra Investment Groups, LLC; and Curt Paddock, director, Will County Land Use Department.  The conversation will be moderated by Carolyn Schofield, McHenry County Board and CMAP board member.


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