Aging issues will greatly impact Tulsa area
BY JANET PEARSON Associate Editor
Sunday, October 09, 2011
10/09/11 at 4:43 AM
We're not getting any younger.
In fact, this region of the country is graying more quickly than elsewhere. So the question of the day becomes: What are we going to do about it?
Mayor Dewey Bartlett has launched a worthwhile initiative aimed at seeking some answers.
The mayor will convene a summit on Monday called "Across the Generations," an ambitious effort to bring Tulsans together to begin charting a plan for addressing the city's changing demographics.
In announcing the summit in August, Bartlett said: "No other value binds a community together more through time than the connection we have with each other through the generations. Our summit is more than a moment; it's a movement that will inspire our citizens of all ages to join together to build a better tomorrow for Tulsa."
The mayor and the leaders of the organization helping with the initiative, the Legacy Project, are hoping Tulsa's effort will lead to a plan that can serve as a national model.
"From the youngest to the oldest citizens, in all areas of community development, the Across the Generations Summit will bring together Tulsans to listen, to talk, and to plan," says the city's literature about the summit. "We can create a city that recognizes, respects, and meets the needs of children, youth, and older adults to unite all generations in support of one another."
Terry Simonson, who was instrumental in crafting the initiative when he served as mayoral chief of staff, said 200-250 "key people as well as students" are expected at the summit, scheduled for 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday at the Tulsa Convention Center. (Registration is $50.)
"It's not an 'old persons' summit or 'what do we do about the old people' conversation. It's deeper than that. This will attempt to get people to understand the community responsibility from the youngest to the oldest that we have for each other," he said.
The Legacy Project is a multi-generational education initiative that looks at "needs across a person's lifetime, needs between generations, and even global needs like the environment, the quintessential intergenerational challenge," according to its literature.
Tulsa is the first city to look at multi-generational issues from the municipal planning standpoint, according to Legacy Project Chairwoman Susan Bosak, who will be among the summit's speakers.
In announcing the Tulsa partnership, Bosak noted that Tulsa faces "the perfect storm for real change."
"You have a pressing challenge with the demographic shift. You have a city that's not too big and not too small to serve as a national model. You have city leaders genuinely interested in new ideas. And you have a community ready to come together and take action. Tulsa will be the first city to take this kind of big-picture approach to the issue of aging."
The looming storm
Bosak is not the first expert observer to use the "perfect storm" analogy. Several years ago, our local Community Service Council, in a series of reports collectively known as "The Perfect Storm," began laying the groundwork for addressing the massive demographic changes that will alter the city in ways never before imagined.
I detailed some of the CSC's findings in a March 27 column.
CSC Director Phil Dessauer Jr. said then that the "convergence of significant forces" facing Tulsa could be leading to not just a perfect storm, but a "super perfect storm."
While the state is experiencing relatively little population growth, the aging population is growing at a fast pace.
By 2030, the population of people age 65 and over will increase a whopping 60 percent or more to become one quarter of the state's population; the 85 and older demographic will increase more than 50 percent. During this same time frame, the working-age population - those 18 to 64 - will decrease slightly, by about a quarter of a percent. The 25-44 age bracket is expected to decrease by 4 percent.
What this means is age-related demands and needs - transportation, housing, health care and others - will soar at a time when such resources are already overburdened. What's more, the aged population of the future will be dependent upon a workforce that will be smaller, more culturally diverse and more economically disadvantaged.
"It is crucial that residents of the state of Oklahoma explore the implications - positive and negative - that by year 2030, one out of five Oklahomans will be 65 years and older," one CSC analysis concluded.
A new report, "The Maturing of America - Communities Moving Forward for an Aging Population," found that for the most part, American cities have not been up to the task of meeting the wants and needs of their rapidly aging populations.
The report, put together by the National Association of Area Agencies on Aging and based on responses from 1,400 local governments, found that while some cities had made strides in recent years to meet the needs of older adults "few had undertaken a comprehensive assessment to create a 'livable community' for all ages, including the diverse population of those age 65+."
"Indeed, it appears that, as a result of the severe economic challenges associated with the recession, most communities have been able to only 'hold the line' - maintaining policies, programs and services already established to meet the needs of an aging population. ...
"This deadlock will prove increasingly untenable with time," the association concluded. "As the number and percentage of older persons rapidly rises, demand for services and supports will rise also. The changing needs of an older population will impact housing, transportation, health care services and virtually all other sectors of the community. At the same time, the need for civic and community engagement by those with the capacity to contribute will be unprecedented."
According to the Legacy Project, fewer than half of America's cities "have even begun to address this demographic shift," and those that have typically have adopted what's known as the "aging friendly" planning models. Legacy Project and city of Tulsa leaders are hoping that the model taking shape here represents a "bigger picture" approach that "overlays generational needs across a lifetime on conventional city planning."
Put another way, the aim is to make Tulsa a good place to live regardless of one's age : for children, for young families raising children, for retirees. The Legacy Project describes it as "a city that responds to generational needs across a lifetime, and brings together all ages for mutual benefit."
While it's obvious physical changes, such as improvements in housing and transportation, will be needed, intangible changes are needed too - especially changes in attitudes about aging.
Legacy Project leaders point out that progress on aging issues "is undermined by ageist stereotypes and a general fear of aging in our culture."
"The old often aren't seen as important, relevant, or useful," said Bosak. "I've spent many years working with all ages to help people understand that this isn't about 'them' - old people - but about you and us."
Original Print Headline: The graying of Tulsa
Janet Pearson 918-581-8328