Category Archives: millennials

Autonomous Cars & Sprawl??

sprawlThe Baby Boomers are the first generation to “sprawl”- that includes the size of their homes, their travel distances to work, their car ownership, and even their waistlines!

Now there is concern that autonomous cars (self driving) will make sprawl even worse. A recent story in the WSJ, for example, speculates whether the savings from not owning a personal car will benefit Millennials will want to escape their cramped urban apartments for “bigger spreads, further away.” (Note: the full article presents both pros and cons).

There are several reasons to challenge the future relationship between driverless cars and urban sprawl. A simplistic answer is that if  “hands-free”  was the key factor, then millions of American commuters would already be taking the bus or train to reach their far-away homes. But, generally they don’t. It is estimated that ‘only’ about 600,000 Americans have extreme commutes of at least 90 minutes each way. 

CITIES AND SPRAWL

There are vital reasons why the “extreme commute” may not happen, even when autonomous cars come to market:

The first reason is that cities are going to be better places to live and they will offer a better lifestyle than today. They will be less car-centric and there will be fewer reasons to own private cars. Cities will also become safer for other transport modes, like walking and biking, since autonomous cars are programmed to obey the speed limit and stop signs. Most importantly, they bring new opportunities to repurpose parking spaces and parking lots. This transformation might be a boon to real estate developers and should increase the green-space, as well as the supply of urban housing.

The Baby Boomers are a cohort that enjoy car-travel, and they have matured  along with an auto industry that has became more reliable and affordable over time. This contrasts with younger generations, who have been weaned on computers, and lean towards life styles that are less car-centric. No one has quite nailed what this means to a cohort of Digital Natives, but there seem to be agglomeration effects. Instead of spending a leisurely afternoon driving to the out-of-town outlet mall or golf course like Boomers, Digital Natives might be more inclined to meet up at a local dive and then take short trips together around the neighborhood. So, while autonomous cars could take them “further” their choices might be closer.

COMMUTE  BUDGETS, TIME BUDGETS

The second reason to question the wisdom of long commutes via autonomous cars is more technical. It is associated with “commute budgets”.  As the term implies, people have fixed resources or  “budgets”; they generally do not exceed one hour of commute travel time per day. This axiom is associated with a transportation researcher called Yacov Zahavi. Athough Zahavi’s work was done in the 1970s and 1980s,  he discovered  across different cultures, and different geographic zones, people did not generally exceed the commute budget. It was something like a law of nature.

(Note: Zahavi observed, before Bus Rapid Transit (BRT), that commuters were unlikely to switch from cars to public transit because of the time-tradeoffs.)

In the future, long distance commuters could exceed the one hour “commute budget”, if travel was done with autonomous luxury and autonomous speed. That is the fear. But, one of the main deterrents is that this travel budget then bumps up into the daily “time budget” which is still fixed at 24 hours.  When commuters spend more minutes per day traveling to and from a distant suburb, they forfeit time spent on other activities.  Instead of sitting in a vehicle, people might prefer to do things such as coach their kid’s soccer game, go to the gym or get on  a bicycle for exercise, and even participate in person at civic activities (think bowling alone). So, while the autonomous car may let people continue to text or work while they travel and perhaps even be VR at the soccer game, it will not substitute for participating in real activities.

Beyond the travel time budget and the 24 hours activity-time budget, there is a third resource constraint: Almost all households maintain a transportation budget. In the U.S. today, the average household spends about 29 percent of its income on travel expenses. While the marketplace has yet to set a rate of “cost per mile” for autonomous travel, longer travel will cost more and potentially tip the economic balance between housing and transportation expense. It will also be subject to state and federal taxes, akin to the tax on gasoline today.

TRAVEL AND HAPPINESS

The third factor that will suppress excessive travel has to do with “happiness”. Even if autonomous cars could bring longer commute trips to more distant homes, travel is a derived activity-it is what “we do” to do something else. There is an interesting subset of research correlating wellness, happiness, and travel time.  Joe Cortright at City Commentary  reports on the literature between quality of life and daily commute time. Behavioral economists find that time spent commuting has the lowest positive rating of all daily activities. Longer commutes are also associated with a high incidence of obesity, back pain, and other health impacts. Even if your autonomous vehicle was super comfortable, these human impacts might continue to plague the trip.

SPRAWL NOT?

Note that the behavioral impacts come from the time spent in the vehicle, not necessarily the traffic. Time budgets are complicated. So, one of the unusual findings from the behavioral research is that more traffic congestion is NOT negatively related to people’s sense of well being and satisfaction.  While this needs further investigation, it is a clue to the future. Perhaps autonomous cars will not help people flee the city.

People generally see some benefits to being in a place congested with traffic- think getting to/from a sporting event, rock concert, school travel, or airport. It is all about being social- not about trekking long distances to reach a greener pasture. The Digital Natives may have already discovered that, and are far ahead of other generations.

Meanwhile, urban settings of the future will appear very different when residents can be comfortable and safe transversing on foot or bicycle, but also be able to seamlessly summon a vehicle on demand. Since the future cost for this transportation has not been established, we do not know the economic constraints (think transportation and time budgets). But, we do know, that people  contemplating long commutes still have to wrestle with a 24 hour time budget, at least for now.

 

Slowing Down is Age-Friendly

texting-while-driving

“Slowing down” is an age-friendly expression. But what if slowing down could actually be a good thing, and helped you live longer and better?

In the case of Aging and Transportation, slowing down, the traffic that is, carries benefits. 2015 was the deadliest driving year since 2008 with an estimated 38,300 deaths, and 4.4 million serious injuries (NHTSA data). While it may be coincidental, the four states that saw the biggest percentage rise in traffic deaths also have a surging population of aging Baby Boomers, namely Oregon, Georgia, Florida, and South Carolina.

Slowing down traffic speeds is particularly vital for aging Boomers, and others needing to cut back their driving. A primary reason is that reduced speed helps the older driver feel safer on the road, and it reduces the likelihood of injuring himself or an innocent bystander.

A car trip that takes them a few minutes longer will not be viewed as a deterrent. Here is the reason:

If a pedestrian is hit by a speeding driver at a default speed limit of 30 miles per hour (mph) there is a 30 percent chance that person will die. That number goes up to 80 percent if the driver is going 40 mph. At 20 mph, a safe speed limit for an urban area, there is a 98% chance the same pedestrian will live.  

A related reason for Boomers to support “slowing down” is that when roads reduce speeds they then become safer for all other transportation modes. In recent years the mode share for bicycles, walking, and transit has accelerated, particularly in urban areas. Although Millennials have led this trend, it bodes well for older people. Bike lanes and wider sidewalks unlock the streets to new modes. For seniors, this may encourage more travel on bike as well as short trips via battery operated scooters, small electric vehicles, golf carts, and other variants. Slower road speeds make these alternative vehicles more likely.

A third reason that slower speeds matter has to do with reaction time- an AAA site notes that during each mile driven- the average driver makes about 20 major decisions. Drivers have less than one-half second to react to avoid a potential collision. With advancing age, drivers have to manage slower reaction times, and often decreased muscular flexibility.  A lower speed limit gives the older driver a fraction of “time” to deal with the cognitive flood.

Meanwhile, there is a growing safety problem that plagues drivers of all ages. It is called “distracted walking.” Pedestrian injuries are spiking as more people walk, but are distracted from the pavement by their electronic gear and smartphones.   Lowering the speed limit gives drivers more time to react to something that crosses their threshold, like a pedestrian oblivious to a right turning car.  At some point the older pedestrian will be the one to amble, and the lower speed limit might help them safely transverse a wide, busy street.

“Slow” driving- an upper speed limit of 55 on the freeways, was introduced by the federal government in the 1970’s as a fuel saving measure, but raised to 65 mph in 1987.  Then, in 1995 Congress repealed the law, and returned the speed limit setting authority to the states.  Faster speed limits are the province of truckers, big states with dispersed populations, and anti-regulation groups.  The need for speed has also played well with advertisers that link fast cars to concepts like independence, performance, and sportiness.

But, “slow speed” is making a return, as it did in the 1970’s. This time it is an urban initiative. There is currently a council proposal to lower speeds in Boston, Mass. New York City lowered its default speed limit from the standard 30 mph to 24 mph in 2014.

Lowering the speed limit has more precedents. Drivers are accustomed to honoring reduced speeds around schools, hospitals, and in certain residential neighborhoods with school age children. Boomers can be pleased that their grandchildren are protected by lower speed limits in these special zones.

These same kids might be pleased if Grandma and Grandpa received equal protection. With a modicum of technology, cars can be programmed to travel at the posted speed and a smart chip can display speeding violations, or record them for a driver’s insurance company or “guardian.” Slowing down cars is now feasible- it is the driver’s who must also be won over. That may not be difficult since 21 percent of those  age 65 and older do not drive. The Boomers, who have isolated themselves in car dependent suburbs, will need to find ways to stay-on-the road.

The Multigenerational Garage

firegaragedoor

Multigenerational households are growing in number and that’s a noteworthy trend for an aging population. But, the multifamily garage may be the source for the most vital trend. Today, about 20% of seniors live in a multigen household and their travel patterns do not fit the norm. A travel behavior specialist uncovered an unusual pattern.

But, first, what is leading different generations to live under one household?

On the surface, generations living side-by-side are “made-for-TV”,  like the fictional Ewings of Dallas who lived under one roof on the their expansive Southfork ranch. A recent WSJ story reinforces the growing demand from the well-to-do. They  are remodeling their “Next Gen“ homes with dual kitchens and side-by-side amenities.

MULTIGENERATIONAL TRENDS

But the reality that drives most multigenerational housing is less glamorous.  The rate of household formation among those 18 to 24 and 25-34 has been declining for some time- probably, say researchers at  Pew Social Trends, due to lower paying jobs or the lack of jobs. Meanwhile, the marriage rate in the U.S. has declined steadily, and single people are more likely to “stay at home.” A third factor driving the multigenerational household is immigration- modern immigrants are more inclined to live under one roof.

The number of multifamily homes is growing. In 2008, about 16% of the U.S. population lived in a family household that contained at least two adult generation or a grandparent and at least one other generation (Pew). By 2012, the rate was 18%, and Pew notes that it continues to rise, even as the economy recovers.

The multigenerational household may be a good trend for aging Baby Boomers, but for the current cohort of elders, the signals are mixed. Most analysts have been looking upstairs, and writing about the economic and cultural factors that bring these families together.  But the most interesting story may be in the garage.

ARE MULTIGENERATIONAL ELDERS MOBILE?

Do multifamily households tend to share transportation and does it become easier for the oldest member of the household (seniors) to keep their mobility?

According to travel specialist Nancy McGuckin  transportation in the multigenerational household is quite distinct from other household travel patterns.  She analyzed data from the 2009 National Household Travel Survey- approximately 8% of the sampled households qualified.

A key finding is that compared to all people 65 and older, the elderly parent in a multi-generational household is more likely to have a medical condition that makes it difficult to travel and is unlikely to be a driver. Although over one in five (21%) aged 65 and older do not drive, that rate is three times higher for elderly parents living with their adult children.  In the multigenerational household, 64% do not drive.

The reason these older people do not drive seems to be health related. In the multi-generational household,  51.5% report a travel disability, a medical condition that makes it difficult to travel outside the home. That number is nearly double the 26.7% percentage in the general population.

OF HEARTH, HEALTH, AND HOME

McGuckin’s transportation study points us to an interesting,  but hidden, link between health and home. If the elderly parent owns the multi-generational home, i.e. has title to it, there may be further complications. It would disrupt the younger generation to sell, so these elders will be less able to afford assisted living, a nursing home or additional medical care. In more than one way, they lack for alternatives and are literally, more housebound.

Hence, it would be useful to map the geographical locations of these multigenerational household.   A post World War II suburban home, with a sprawling layout and ample square footage, is likely to be beyond the reach of public transit and the Dial-A-Van. But, it might appeal to a large family needing schools and access to highways (for jobs).  An earlier style of multigenerational housing, the triple decker, often found in New England mill towns, might be closer to a bus stop and walking distance to a hospital.

 

Hollywood Meets Autonomous Cars

connected_mobility_web-grafik_en_02__mediumHollywood has prepped us for the autonomous car. It’s just that the message was subtle and it took a while to register.

In countless movies and shows, we witness the ultra-wealthy whisked away in black limousines and chauffeured vehicles…to consummate cliff-hanging phones calls and business deals from the back seat.  Another vivid Hollywood image is of stretched limos and tricked out Hummers occupied by jubilant rock stars and celebrities. Inside the blackened windows, we imagine an ongoing party replete with food, drinks, and more.

It is not clear that image of  the black car or the stretched limo  well describe our future autonomous cars, but they do provide context. In fact, a recent Ford motor executive commented on a future that looks like the movies.  At the 2015 LA auto show, Sheryl Connelly, said the future cabin could become a productivity capsule, helping people move with their office. Or, she noted, the car could be a place that shields people from incoming calls and email,  where they relax in comfort until they reach their destination.

Millennials and Baby Boomers are “miles apart” in their expectations for self-driving cars. A Carnegie Mellon survey polled 1,000 respondents  respondents about  what they would  do with the free time when the car took over the driving duties. Baby Boomers said they would read more. It is noteworthy that older respondents said they’d appreciate the increased safety provided by self-driving cars, especially at night, in heavy traffic, on unfamiliar roads or on the highway.

Younger people  had a different take: they dreamt of hosting mobile parties, eating lunch in the car, putting on makeup, and, of course, doing work. Perhaps the youngest  Millennials  watched a lot of Hollywood movies. Or, perhaps they saw the future and decided to claw back 50 minutes a day. 

The average commute time in the U.S. is 25 minutes. This does not include additional minutes spent searching for a parking space, parking, and walking the final leg.  And, at the end of the day the commuter turns around and does it all again….Often in a slog of afternoon or evening traffic.

This has not gone unrecognized. A recent report, circulated at the LA Auto Show, suggests that there is a relationship between time spent in congestion and interest in autonomous cars. In India, 85 percent of the surveyed population saw themselves using autonomous cars, while this figure in the US was 40 percent. People in crowded cities where parking space is scarce, waste hours in  traffic each day, so they see the immediate benefits of  the autonomous car. Note that the actual sample and statistics for the survey are not provided in the link.

Baby Boomers, a generation that celebrated driving, have routinized the commute- and found “audio” things to pass the time. They have been party to a succession of entertainment features, from over-the-air radio, 8-track cassettes, CB radio, CD players, and now, Sirius radio over the Internet.  But the phone, whether handsfree or handheld, has had more impact, and may accelerate the need for driverless vehicles. The National Safety Council’s annual injury and fatality report, “Injury Facts,” (2014) observes that the use of cellphones causes 26% of the nation’s car accidents,

Millennials have  taken it one step further and sought transportation options that let them take their hands and eyes off the wheel.

This may partially explain why they are the first generation to delay getting their drivers’  license, and to favor urban areas and  public transit.  Millennials have been the first to embrace Uber and Lyft,  although their elders (The Boomers) are now following suit. Millennials “get”  the benefits of autonomous cars, particularly the environmental impacts. But, the driverless feature may be of greatest significance for anyone who uses the phone while driving, and for aging Boomers, the elderly, and the disabled.

It may take a while before government indexes – the measures that capture GDP and Productivity catch up with what we are doing in our cars. Maybe the mobile office will let people work an extra hour or two everyday, as the Millennials wish. Or, eat on the go, literally. Perhaps  there will just be more time for games, downloads, and chat. If it turns out to be about entertainment, Hollywood will continue to inform us of  entirely novel things we can do in the confines of a moving vehicle.

.

A New Geography for Millennials

The Millennials are learning a new geography…thanks to technology.

Technology encouraged the Baby Boomers to settle in far-flung places: the suburbs exploded after WWII as cars became more affordable, ubiquitous, and reliable. Now, technology is on the move again, and so are people.

For the first time since the 1920s, growth in US cities outpaces growth outside of them. It is well documented that Millennials are opting to live in urban areas over the suburbs and rural communities. According to Nielsen polling, sixty-two percent of Millennials prefer to live in the type of mixed-use communities found in urban centers, where they can be close to shops, restaurants, and offices.  

TECHNOLOGY AT THE HEART

Technology is at the heart of these changing tastes. The desirability of car travel has tarnished as both commute trips and errands become long and stressful. Car trips are also energy intensive. Meanwhile, the technology of cyberspace is growing…and to coin a cliché, coming soon to a theatre near you. Cyberspace brings the contrasting trends to go big and to go small, simultaneously. The “big” is Urban. The small is situated in neighborhood Starbuck’s like places.  In addition to serving up coffee, Starbucks has created spaces where people can get out and co-mingle, WiFi enabled.  The “Starbucks Effect” satisfies a basic need for individuals to share a public space. Shades of sociability are gained for the price (and calories) of a frappucino.

GO BIG…GO SMALL… SIMULTANEOUSLY

The Starbucks Effects matters: many digital workers work as independent contractors, doing things like updating websites, writing code, and tweeking their online pages and identities. Many times the work will involve creating a buzz and interaction, but through the impersonal, and silent channels of the Internet.  Cyberworkers need to find outside environments that are proximate, but populated with diverse ideas and people.

Meanwhile, for businesses that employ these digital workers, the urban environment seems to be more productive for them than the office-parks and suburbs of the twentieth century. They are able to recruit younger, better trained workers, who like the city (a tautology). Urban settings are also said to foster agglomeration effects, and the speed of innovation. Urban economists who study modern trends say that density facilitates contact between smart people and fosters innovation. An interesting data point comes from the physicists Bettencourt and West and cited in the NYT.  When the population of a city doubles, there is an increase of 15 to 20 percent in human interaction. That might explain why innovations grow exponentially, and why our personal social networks become more valuable and useful when they are urban based.

 

WHERE THE HIGHWAYS WENT AND WROUGHT

One of the ironies of the past generation is that the passion for the car, a twentieth century invention, led U.S. cities, at least temporarily, to unravel and become economically and socially dim.  Inner city areas were blighted as the Interstate Highway network segmented and cut residential blocks. Jane Jacobs, the planner, was an advocate for the preservation of small-scale neighborhoods, at the expense of efficient highways. Her point was that the neighborhoods facilitated the free flow of information between city residents and that these exchanges were essential human needs. When the highways came, the sociability left.

Starbucks may have been one of the first corporate entities to identify this shortcoming and capitalize upon it by selling friendly Wifi space, along with a frappucino. Their undoing may be Millennial clients who favor more “local” outfits, such as Blue Bottle Coffee. But, then, the preference for Blue Bottle might give way to the next shop, one opened by a more local, next-door entrepreneur/owner. The point is that Millennials are trying to forge a sense of place and connectivity, and they are going to reach this place in a manner quite unlike their parents- it is not in the car.

Age and Autonomous Cars

 

The autonomous car may be diffusing itself into the hearts and minds of Baby Boomers, even before it makes its first, mass-market debut.

In a poll done by Pew Research in 2014,

N=1001
N=1001

there was no age-divide when respondents were asked about their willingness to ride in an autonomous car. Fifty-two (52) percent of those 18-29 agreed, 50 percent of those ages 30-49, 48 percent of those ages 50 to 64, and 45 percent of those age 65 and older. The associate director of research, Aaron Smith at Pew commented, “We didn’t highlight the age findings because there weren’t any real generational differences to speak of.”

DIFFUSION OF INNOVATION AND AGE GROUPS

This is a very unusual finding. Traditionally “diffusion of innovation” studies find that younger age people are more likely to be early adopters. The literature lists myriad reasons but it is generally held that younger people are more exposed to more messages and information,  find it easier to be at “risk” with new innovations, and  enjoy “bragging rights” from being first (a vital dimension for social media).

Cell phones, GPS navigation, and social media use are recent examples of innovations that  began with young people and then trickled up to older cohorts. Since  24% of the US population is 18 or younger, and another 36% are ages 18 to 44 (total <44= 60%)  a really big innovation needs to filter up to the other 40 percent.

BOTH ENDS OF THE AGE SPECTRUM

The autonomous car might be the innovation that captures both ends of the age spectrum.  For younger users, it holds numerous advantages: It promises mobility for teens and young adults without the hassle and costs of getting a license and owning a car. People under 25 have difficulty renting cars because they do not have a driving record. Oft times they live at home, on campuses, or in urban areas where parking is limited and expensive. The autonomous car could remove these hassles for young people, and let them focus on their schooling, or jobs…and even getting to work or school if they do not own a car.

For older people at the other end of the age spectrum, the autonomous car may be the orange “life preserver” we provide to keep them healthy and actively engaged. In earlier blogs we have written about the need for seniors to keep healthy and connected. When they give up driving older people report feeling isolated and helpless, particularly if they are beyond the reach of public transportation and affordable taxi services. This is a problem of proportion, since nearly 70% of the Baby Boomers in the US have settled in far-flung suburbs served primarily, and sometimes exclusively, by personal household vehicles. The suburbs might have been a fine place to live when they were young and raising families, but they will be the first cohort to test “aging-in-place” when “place” is  car-dependent suburbia.

THE UNIMAGINED…DIFFUSES!

People notoriously underestimate the role of new technology…until it well, just happens. Take, for example, the transition from the corded phone, the one with a curlicue cord plugged in at the wall, to the cordless one. If you had surveyed 35 years ago, and asked people their opinion about a “phone you could take from room to room”…they would have looked puzzled. And next, they would ask why they needed one and they could possibly do with it.

It is unusual, and exciting, that people intuitively understand the need for a futuristic,  autonomous car. The explanation goes something like this: “Imagine a car that you could take from place to place even if you are not feeling too well today, not quite up to driving, or you are simply too old, or too young, to have a full driver’s license.”

 

Boomers and Real Estate

internethouse

Boomers and older cohorts own more than 60% of the residential real estate in this country.* Yet they make up only a third of the population. These people clearly drank the Kool-Aid that owning a home is a pillar of the American Dream. Perhaps Boomers even manufactured the Kool-Aid, for home-ownership is such a fundamental value.

The next generation, the Millennials, are postponing the aspiration to become homeowners, forging new paths for their American Dream.

OZZIE AND HARRIET MEET THE INTERNET

In previous blogs we observe that the “Ozzie and Harriet” style homes that Boomers favored are ill-suited to modern demographics. Millennials are marrying later, if they marry at all, living closer-in, and having smaller families. Boomers ignore these demographic trends at their own peril, because they must sell their large, “Ozzie and Harriet” manse to this next generation.
But, there is an even more unsettling issue for Boomers.

Nobel Laureate Robert Shiller observes that in ten years time, there could be another housing boom or bust. In a speculative article on the co-movement of house values, mortgage costs, and interest rates he observes a new, external factor:

“Culture changes- like those brought by the Internet- could also have a profound effect. When our social contracts are increasingly defined by social media, for example, the appeal of living in a permanent physical neighborhood could decline. We don’t really know. This is more sociology than economics.”

SEA CHANGE IN FINANCIALS

Shiller is conjecturing whether generational changes are underfoot. Supporting this viewpoint, the financial industry has noted a sea-change in rates of thrift and savings. According to Moody’s Analytics, people under age 35 have stopped saving. The Millennial generation has a savings rate of negative 2 percent, meaning that they are burning through their assets or going into debt.

The lack of savings is attributed to subtle factors, not simply to student debt or lack of jobs. One issue is that younger people say it is “too complicated” to learn about investment accounts, mutual funds, and IRAs. The other issue is that Millennials use their income for more experiential purchases. They express a priority to spend on travel, special events like weddings, reunions, and concerts, and, of course, eating out.

Harking back to Shiller’s speculation on housing trends, it is noteworthy that these experiential purchases- (vacations, travel, restaurants)- coincide with meet-ups, social contracts and social media. These are intensely social activities. The Internet may be the game-changer bringing about new needs. In the recent book, Aging in Suburbia, Chapter Six explores three different impacts that are fueled by the Internet. It is noteworthy that social experiences are trumping real-assets, including the older suburban homes so cherished by the Boomers.

WHO IS MIXING THE KOOL-AID?

So, looking forward, we need to ask not only who is drinking the Kool-Aid,  but more importantly, who is mixing it?

Striving to get a 30 year mortgage, doing the lawn on weekends, and getting a home equity loan for the DIY addition may have a more limited cachet for the Internet savvy Millennials. For Boomers…well, they have been there, done that.

*Aging in Suburbia, Chapter One, p. 36.

 

Age-Friendly Rethinking For Mobility

Baby Boomers did not move into their parent’s houses. For the most part they shunned the cramped apartments in bigger cities, the sprawling solitary farmhouses, and the turn-of-the century walk-ups and Victorians. Instead, the Baby Boomers rebuilt the US housing stock, and in most cases, these new homes defined the modern suburbs.

A RETHINK TO AGE-IN-PLACE

Today, as Baby Boomers age, they are rethinking how these suburban homes will accommodate an aging lifestyle. The journalist, Sally Abrahms, observes in a Wall St. Journal article that a mini “baby boom building boom” is taking place. There is a rethink going on among those who wish to age-in-place. There is recognition of retrofitting for future needs like homes that have a bedroom on the first floor, an easy-to-maintain interior and exterior, and curbless doors and floors.

Given their propensity to plan ahead, the Boomers next Rethink’ should take place in the attached, but homely multi-car garage. The reason is that as people age they become less able to drive safely. In 2001, an estimated 23 percent of older adults were afflicted with mobility impairments. These are defined as medical conditions that make travel outside the home difficult. Afflictions like arthritis and diabetes, and age-related losses in memory and vision combine to make people less mobile, and less able to drive.

RETHINKING MOBILITY-IN-PLACE

It remains to be seen whether Baby Boomers will be a healthier generation than their elders, or whether pockets of obesity and prescription drug use will take a toll. In 2013, 21 percent of the population over age 65 did not drive, but most of the cutback takes place at age 75 and beyond. It is well known that older drivers reduce the number of miles they travel (think less commuting) but the trends are changing. Retired Boomers take more individual trips and the average yearly mileage for those 70 and above is increasing. Inopportunely, it is women who cease driving sooner.

Unless Baby Boomers come to grips with the transportation issues, they will not be well equipped to age-in-place. This is particularly important for women, who may outlive their spouses, but are intending to remain in their family-friendly homes. While some Boomers will have perfectly intact homes that are well designed and thought out, they must reinvent their methods of transportation. How will they get around when they are less able drivers? Depending on the neighbors, adult children, or the paratransit van are not good solutions.

The need to think this through is important, since nearly 70% of the Boomers have settled in areas beyond the reach of public transportation. Fortunately, new transportation technologies are on the horizon and may be just-in-time when the oldest Boomers reach age 75 or so. In 2025 the AARP estimates that one in every five drivers will be over the age of 65 (and the oldest of the Boomers will be age 79).

COMING FULL CIRCLE:

Meanwhile, the homes that the Baby Boomers did not move into- their parents’ cramped apartments in big cities, and the turn-of-the century walk-ups and Victorians- these homes are getting renewed attention. That’s because they are centrally located near transit, and likely to be close-in for jobs, schools, restaurants, gyms, and more. So, both Millennials and the Boomers are bidding up the price of these rentals in urban, transit-friendly cities and inner suburbs. Meanwhile, the sprawling solitary farmhouses- many of them don’t really exist any more in the Northeast and Midwest. That’s because they were turned into the sprawling housing tracts and suburbia that Baby Boomers now call home-sweet-home.

Housing Mismatch

etsyDateline Boston:  Home sweet home is getting pricey at both ends of the age spectrum. Young adults and their aging parents are engaged in an escalating and increasingly expensive struggle for….an affordable place to live. The first wave of a housing-mismatch is taking place in Boston, Mass., in San Francisco, Ca., and other metropolitan areas that team with affluent and young tech workers. Boomers live further out, in homes that are too big and need to downsize. Millennials are choosing to live closer-in, and prefer residences that require less upkeep. Neither group (Millennials or Boomers) can find alternatives that are affordable, per Boston Globe writer Deidre Fernandez.

A housing study, completed at the Dukakis Center for Urban and Regional Policy at Northeastern University, notes a housing market out-of-synch with its buyers. Millennials are finding it difficult to live where they work and play, and they are also strapped by high rents. It is difficult for them to save for future homes, since 1/3 of their income, sometimes more, is committed to paying the monthly rent.

The research study shows that between 2000 and 2010 Boston, Mass. (Suffolk County) experienced a 10.2% percentage- change growth in population ages 20 to 34, while the further-out suburbs experienced losses. Plymouth Mass., for example, had a 8.9% percentage change loss in younger residents. Over the same time period, average rentals went from an asking price of $1,462 in 2000 to $1,696 in 2010, and in 2014 they escalated to $1,957.

Meanwhile, lower income people are being pushed out further, presumably into the suburbs. Traditional triple-decker homes, a staple of Massachusetts domiciles, were once the province of working class families. Today, Millennials are choosing to live here, as these 3-plex homes are closer-in, near transit, and can accommodate several roommates.

So, the Millennials are moving towards the city- in this case Boston- while the population in the suburbs are getting older and poorer.

This is not promising news for Baby Boomers. If they have intended to unload their home in Massachusetts suburbs like Plymouth or Weymoth and move closer to the city, they will lack for affluent and eager buyers, Although their homes have appreciated, the appreciation may be less than they counted on for a comfortable retirement.

On the other hand, if they decide to age-in-place, their familiar neighborhood may take on a new character. The residents will likely be new immigrant groups, hourly workers who have migrated from the city, and other older people, like themselves. Over time, the tax base will erode- the one that has supported the good libraries, the quality public schools, and other public services. Unless the real estate values continue to appreciate and the fully employed move back, the tax base will not grow.

And, finally– there is the transportation. Always the transportation. With an older population that does not commute on a daily basis, public transportation, always a scarce resource, will be directed towards workers in other locales. Although the Boomers who age-in-place do not place a high priority on public transportation, there will be long drives to shop, to visit, and go to the doctor’s office. The suburban landscape has always been spread out, but it is become more so as malls close, and entertainment and shopping move to the Internet.

Boomers that age-in-place will continue to have their large homes, while a younger generation seeks something smaller, more connected, and most of all, closer-in. The Baby Boomers are a car-centric cohort that have built their lifestyles around automobiles. The Millennials, whether they live in Boston or San Francisco are Digital Natives, and are finding other ways to express their freedom, individuality, and (ahum) drive.

Aging and Driving

aging and transportation ...a new partner, the Smartphone
aging and transportation …a new partner, the Smartphone

Aging and driving will not go well for the Baby Boomers unless they are prepared to learn some new Smartphone lessons.

A recent study looks at how technology helps people get around a city without a car. It turns out that a Smartphone is the entry point. Would-be travelers can access services like real-time transit information, ride-hailing, virtual ticketing, multi-modal trip-planning apps, and bike-share…using their phones.

The travel report about Smartphones was written in 2012 and 2013 by the Frontier Group and the Public Interest Research Group (PIRG)*. They rated 70 cities on the availability of technology-assisted transportation. Austin, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C., were ranked as the top three cities. The rankings depended on two criteria: the number of transportation service providers and the number of services available.

This ranking may seem esoteric to those who are car-dependent, but services like Lyft and Uber, car sharing, and real-time bus information are literally “fueled” by technology and Smartphones. For users, they bring entirely new options and expand the availability of transportation choices.

The youngest generation, known as Digital Natives, turn to their phones first when they want to travel. In urban areas, Smartphones help them optimize the route and the travel mode. Meanwhile, they can continue to text or work once they start the trip, assuming they are not a solo driver.

Baby Boomers, on the other hand, are slow to the game and still sitting, solo in their cars often fuming at the traffic. Boomers surely use Google maps to navigate or Nextbus, if they use transit, but few of them delve deeper into their transportation apps. The average Boomer household owns close to two cars, and has little need for alternatives. Yet.

Meanwhile, transportation providers that service older people, like Dial-A-Ride and medical vans, operate completely outside of the mobile app/Smartphone range. There is little attention to how these services can reach the suburbs. As the Frontier report notes, “(governments) .., have not begun to tap into areas beyond the major cities in which they have taken root, surmount economic and other barriers to the use of those alternatives, and explore the potential uses of Internet and mobile communications technologies in expanding access to high-quality public transportation in areas that currently do not have the population density to sustain such service.

Travel in the suburbs continues to reflect the infrastructure and investment of an earlier time before digital communications. The investment in roads and cars suited a country in which Detroit reigned, and one in eight jobs was in automotives. As technology moves forward, there are newer ways to expand our transportation network, without building new roads.

And these new ways will be ever-important (or Uber important), if Baby Boomers wish to age-in-place.

*News story:

http://www.uspirg.org/news/usf/new-report-ranks-70-major-american-cities%E2%80%99-tech-transportation-options