January 5, 2014

GOOD FOOD FOR THOUGHT …both in the Strib and on Meet the Press today as the documentation of the urbanization of the world continues, the ACA healthcare system becomes official and what in the world we do about those suburbs filled with aging traditionalists and boomers.

Millennials do not want their kids to grow up in a car like they did…and while searching for alternatives, they discovered the benefits of the city.  And with that, the demographic role reversal continues to escalate.

Of course, this is not a new phenomenon.  I first “emigrated” out of the metro burbs in 1994 and a whole new culturally rich world became available to me reinforcing the decision to leave a world of “ticky-tacky little boxes” as well as “McMansions “behind.

After growing up in Rochester that had (and still has) a real cosmopolitan downtown, those burbs were never my location of choice.  The Rochester of my youth was a place with one-of-a kind stores and chain stores, hotels, art galleries, live theatre, a symphony orchestra, and colleges -along with people from around the world that were found at the Mayo Clinic, the hospitals, and in businesses.

 But unfortunately, as I found myself living in Minneapolis, my career choice dictated a change.   The companies in which I was employed were located off interstates and major highways…and neither Bloomington nor Plymouth measured up to “my standards”, but they were convenient-no long commutes to the workplace.

Naturally, over time, the suburbs have countered to what is inherently missing in their midst with all sorts of schemes…creating “movie sets” that imitate workable downtowns but most of them are pretty similar…big box stores, huge parking lots, and strip malls that may have at one end a building that perhaps handles the city business or a library or more likely, a movie theatre. And, nary a sidewalk anywhere-nor a heart of a community.

But now, reality is setting in.  The young want more.  They do not want to waste their time in a car or bus to get to anything of interest they want to do. Nor do they want to raise their children the way they were raised – in a car. So they are migrating to the cities…leaving the old folks who built those burbs to themselves and complaining.

 Unfortunately, those left behind don’t drive much anymore; alternative transportation modes within their “safe zone” are few and far between; and their lack of density and eroding tax bases don’t allow funds to make changes.  So they are trapped.  What could be drearier than a whole suburb of old people!  They whine about never seeing their kids; never doing anything; and yet they choose to let their brains atrophy as they perch in front of the boob tube for company-hour after hour after hour.

In fairness, those that know me well should expect I would feel disdain for all who choose TV over live interaction.  Yes, I watch the news; I can’t wait for tonite and Downton Abby, and occasionally, I mindlessly watch a “special” J  But there is no doubt, a good book trumps TV every time for me, and certainly so does good conversation! I simply don’t like my brain just sitting there in “park” not being exercised!

Yes, I also am exaggerating a bit, for some of our aging population are out there going to the gym, or visiting other lonely folks at the Senior Citizens Center – (most of whom are also complaining that their kids never visit). But at the same time, my brother and sister-in-law now in their eighties JUST retired.  And certainly some search for and find a new purpose in life after 65; they continue to work, to volunteer, and to give back to their community or a cause that holds significance for them.  Nevertheless, overall, we have problems.

Today the Strib pointed out a significant one – the ambulance costs from senior citizens in aging suburbs.  And Meet the Press focused directly in on the Medicare issue and the fact that medical expenses for aging patients in current systems are simply not sustainable.  No better experts could be found, I think, than the heads of the Cleveland Clinic and the Mayo Clinic.

I cannot speak for Cleveland Clinic system, but I can speak for the Mayo Clinic.  In just the past two years I have spent thousands of dollars on residual medical issues stemming from my disastrous fall in 2002.  Only when, in desperation, I went back to Mayo did I find relief – not only from the pain, but financially- for a total out-of-pocket cost of $65!

As I think about it, it is really up to us – those that are that aging group – to stand up and make some changes.  Most of us don’t have to be isolated in the suburbs; we don’t have to be afraid to go outside, or of a knock on our door; we do not have to lobby for money for more infrastructure so that our kids have a way to get to us in the crumbling burbs; we do not have to be hindered by lack of disposable income. Most of us do not have to be lonely and dependent upon our children for conversation. And if we choose not to do something about it, then whose fault is that?  Not the kids, nor the government. 


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