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Initiative Aims to Keep Boomer Towns from Becoming Ghost Towns

June 11, 2012

LANSING, Mich. - A new initiative under way in Michigan is spreading the word that as the population ages, cities, towns and neighborhoods need to make changes - or risk losing older residents.

Housing options, travel choices and nearby shopping and medical care are the tenets of "livable communities," according to AARP, which is launching the campaign to encourage planning now to keep aging Baby Boomers active and engaged in their communities instead of moving away.

Karen Kafantaris, associate state director for livable communities at AARP Michigan, says the state's 65-plus set is expected to grow by 40 percent by 2030 - and most of the state isn't ready.

"Not just for seniors, but for everybody who can get around to do the things that they need to do. It's going to be having a wide range of housing options. It's going to be streets that you can actually cross without having to be an Olympic sprinter to get across them."

Michigan is one of seven pilot states selected by AARP in conjunction with the World Health Organization as part of the AARP's Network of Age-Friendly Communities. The idea is to help guide improvements to make communities more user-friendly for all ages. With declining revenues and increasing demands for services, Kafantaris says it will take creativity to better align "age-friendly" designs - but she's confident it can be done.

There are economic benefits to consider, too. Kafantaris says retirees often have significant disposable incomes.

"It's shown that older adults shop locally. For every senior you keep in the community, you keep 3.5 jobs."

She says Michiganders age 65 and older add value besides cash. They volunteer at a high rate - more than 4 million hours a year.

Program details are online at aarp.org.

Deb Courson Smith, Public News Service - MI