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Planning and Aging

The leading edge of the baby boom (roughly 1947-1965) is now reaching retirement age. Middle-range projections by the Bureau of the Census show the total U.S. population increasing by about 26 percent from 2010 to 2035 but the 65-and-over population growing by 80 to 90 percent. That huge age wave from the baby boom will push a whole range of social planning questions to the forefront. A more numerous retirement age population will control a larger share of the nation's income and accumulated wealth, and will constitute a larger percentage of the nation's voters.

The place where the changed demographic structure will probably have its biggest effect on planning practice is in housing and land use. Seniors, who live largely in one- and two-person households, have very different housing needs and housing preferences than other age groups. They also have different needs for health, recreation, and public services (see Chapter 11). Transportation planning (see Chapter 12) will be affected. Public transportation in the United States now, with the exception of commuter rail and metro services, is largely used by the less prosperous—those who do not own automobiles. A large number of affluent seniors who cannot or do not want to drive could put a very different spin on that.

Social Planning for Whom?

The social issues noted in this chapter reinforce a basic theme of this book, which is that almost all but very minor planning decisions impose gains and losses. Planners who define themselves as social planners often feel that they should attempt to tip society's scales toward the less fortunate (or tip them so that they favor the fortunate a bit less). But many other planners take the position that their task is to serve the majority of the community or to serve a general public interest so far as they can identify it. These planners may also argue that a single community cannot do much about broad equity issues such as the distribution of income. Therefore, such matters are necessarily left to higher levels of government, where the means are more commensurate with the size of the problem.

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