Working for Smart Growth:
More Livable Places and Open Spaces


Age-Friendly Municipalities Creating great places to age in New Jersey

New Jersey League of Municipalities, December 1, 2020New Jersey Future Op-Ed Button

By Peter Kasabach

America is growing older. Every day for the rest of the decade, 8,000 members of the Baby Boom generation will turn 65.

We know a great deal today about the correlation between where people live and how they age. We know that seniors are at risk of social isolation and that social isolation presents serious threats to mental and physical health. And we know that seniors face limited access to vital community resources in isolation. COVID-19 has only exacerbated these risks for New Jersey’s aging residents. We need to take steps now so that communities are prepared to deal with conditions, such as disease outbreaks or natural disasters, that compromise public health or safety. This includes making New Jersey’s communities healthier and safer for aging adults. But how?

The built environment

To start, we can take a closer look at the built environment of our communities. Land use is a critical factor in a town’s livability for people of all ages, but especially for older residents. Communities offering affordable and diverse housing options, downtown walkability and other forms of access to daily tasks for those who don’t drive, physical and social activities, safe streets, and amenities like parks, are places where older residents can thrive. However, many communities in New Jersey, which has the 11th largest number of residents aged 60 and older, fail to offer these attributes.

Many people want to stay in their communities as they get older. Our communities contain our friends, doctors, places of worship, gyms, familiar restaurants and shops. Some aging residents would like to continue living in the homes they’ve known for many years. Others want to move, but still stay in the town they love. Some want to downsize from a larger single-family home to a smaller house, townhouse, or apartment closer to the destinations they need to reach. This is especially true as mobility declines with age and many people eventually reduce their driving or stop driving altogether, making walkability to destinations critically important.

Municipal scores

New Jersey Future has scored every municipality on three criteria that serve as a general indicator of how well a town is positioned to meet the changing needs of its aging residents—whether it has a recognizable downtown or Main Street with a variety of establishments, how many typical destinations there are per square mile, and how connected the street network is–making it easier to reach destinations without driving. Unfortunately, nearly 300,000 New Jersey residents aged 55 and older live in areas that scored low on these agingfriendliness indicators. And the number of people who are expected to grow older in these car-dependent communities is projected to rise.

Additionally, a large proportion of New Jersey’s older residents are housing cost-burdened, which means they are paying more than 30% of their income for their housing. Retirement income tends to be lower than employment income while housing costs generally stay the same or increase. The types of homes many older people want–townhouses or apartments within walking distance of daily tasks–are in low supply and high demand, which makes them too expensive for many.

Senior Dollars

As Americans live longer, they also work, pay taxes, and support local businesses longer. The AARP’s Longevity Economy outlook found that in 2018, the 50-plus age demographic contributed $645 billion in state and local taxes, a sum expected to increase four times by 2050. In terms of direct spending, 56 cents of every dollar spent in 2018 was attributable to this age group, and is expected to increase to 61 cents by 2050. Additionally, the 50-plus age group is expected to be an important driver of job sustainability through 2050. In 2018, this age group supported 88.6 million U.S. jobs
through jobs they hold or create. This number is projected to grow to 102.8 million jobs by 2050.

Improving communities

How can New Jersey’s car-dependent communities become more aging-friendly? Through support from the Henry and Marilyn Taub Foundation and the Community Foundation of South Jersey’s Aging Innovation Fund, New Jersey Future has been helping towns proactively improve their built environments to accommodate the needs of an aging population.

This work includes providing information about aging-friendly features and the real social and economic benefits they offer, an overview of the demographics
of a town’s older residents, and an aging-friendly land use assessment followed by assistance with local planning based on the results.

As part of the assessment process, New Jersey Future analyzes a town’s downtown center, housing options, access to transportation, and supply of public spaces and amenities and then provides recommendations for each in an agingfriendly land-use assessment report.

The advantages of aging-friendly communities extend beyond the health benefits for older residents. There are substantial economic benefits to municipalities whose residents are able to comfortably age-in-community.

The towns New Jersey Future has been working with are well on their way to becoming better places to age and live in general, as we have learned that aging friendly towns are more livable, equitable, and inclusive towns for people of all ages.

To help your community get started, Download New Jersey Futures’ Creating Great Places to Age in New Jersey: A Community Guide to Implementing Aging-Friendly Land Use Decisions from This guide provides towns with a step-by-step process to make it easier to design for the needs of older residents. We hope you’ll take a look and join us in our work to create great places to age across New Jersey and stronger, healthier, more equitable communities for everyone.

© New Jersey Future, 16 W. Lafayette St. • Trenton, NJ 08608 • Phone: 609-393-0008 • Fax: 609-360-8478

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