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The Oregonian: Portland and Portland State University gear up for aging population boom
Author: Jillian Daley
Posted: November 5, 2012

Read the original article in The Oregonian here.

Portland State University and the city of Portland have teamed up to prepare for a population boom of older people. 

In the Portland-Vancouver metro area, the number of people 65 and older is projected to more than double over the next two decades, from 190,262 to 394,406, says Alan DeLaTorre, project manager for Portland's Age-Friendly Cities Project. That's a 107 percent jump compared to a projected increase of 78 percent statewide and nationally. 

The share of older people in the metro area's population will grow from 11 percent in 2010 to 17 percent in 2030.

PSU's Institute on Aging downtown is partnering with the city on the Action Plan for an Age-Friendly Portland to better serve and tap the skills and knowledge of Portland's rapidly aging population. The plan could spark changes in housing, transportation and other features of city life. 

It proposes an equitable distribution of resources, DeLaTorre says, while "paying attention to the fact that our demographic is changing, and we don't have adequate resources pointed directly toward our aging society." 

A draft of the action plan is expected in January, and Portland's Age-Friendly Advisory Council will seek city approval of the plan next year, DeLaTorre says. 

The goal, he says, "is to create a city that is friendly to those of all ages and abilities." 

The action plan could give developers more incentives to build accessible housing with features such as door levers instead of knobs and wider entryways to accommodate older people with mobility issues, says Deborah Stein, district planning manager of the Portland Bureau of Planning & Sustainability.  

More sidewalk improvements are another option. 

There could be small community centers throughout the city, places to socialize, obtain medical care or buy groceries, Stein says. 

"Access to healthful food in neighborhoods helps people stay healthy and also gives them a place to walk to," she says. 

Seniors also could be a city resource as mentors and tutors, she says. 

Joe VanderVeer, who suffered a traumatic brain injury and uses a wheelchair, says the city should consider requiring developers to build more accessible housing. Many Portland residences preceded the Americans with Disabilities Act and do not meet accessibility standards. 

"It would be nice if housing even met the ADA standards," says VanderVeer, chairman of a accessibility subcommittee for the Portland Commission on Disability.  

The action plan addresses physical, social and service needs, including housing, transportation, outdoor spaces and buildings, civic participation, jobs, communication and health care. 

Some of the city's age-friendly concepts are in The Portland Plan, a 25-year city plan focusing on prosperity, education, health and equity that the city will initiate next year 

The World Health Organization says an age-friendly community has policies, services and structures to help older people live healthy and safely and participate fully in society. 

"It's a mindset of being aware of different age groups," says Jay Bloom, 60, a member of the Age-Friendly Advisory Council.  "If you make it age-friendly for older adults, you make it better for everyone." 

For example, older people need good sidewalks, he says, but so do people with disabilities and families with a baby carriage. 

Portland Commissioner Nick Fish, who was a member of a Multnomah County task force on aging, says he's keenly aware that older adults face many challenges and want to grow old in their own homes. 

"We want Portland to be a welcoming place for people of all ages and every income level," he says.