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posted: 7/1/2011 3:00 AM

We must plan for great, gray suburbs

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Daily Herald Editorial Board

Suburbs here and around the nation are graying at a rapid rate, a new report shows.

Forty percent of suburban residents are 45 or older, up from 34 percent in the previous census. Only 35 percent of city residents are 45 or older, The Washington Post reported in a story about Brookings Institution demographer William Frey's findings.

The vast implications of this trend truly boggle the mind. It underscores that cities are where the young want to be -- until they marry and have children of their own. Then they tend to move to the suburbs. That migration pattern has been ongoing for some time now, but with baby boomers now more entrenched than ever in the suburbs and planning to stay here, the age-old fight for school funding and taxes to run governments could potentially become more strident.

The more immediate implications, though, also will need to be addressed. Funding is tight, but the Frey report should be the alert we all need that we must start planning for more and better suburban mass transit, affordable housing, social activities and senior-focused physical and mental health facilities.

Every municipal, school, state and other government official needs to get thinking about what services will be in high demand. Entrepreneurs and developers should do the same, pitching more affordable and accessible housing. Every regional planning group should move reacting to this trend higher up on their priority lists, if they haven't already done so.

Indeed, some have and should be commended. Daily Herald transit columnist Marni Pyke recently noted the Center for Neighborhood Technology is on the case. In just three and one-half short years, the group noted that fully two-thirds of seniors in Chicago-area suburbs will have limited access to trains and buses in their report, "Aging in Place, Stuck without Options."

Think about just this one problem. If you're one of the many over 45 and headed up over that hill in the suburbs, you're probably also wedded to your car or cars. Think about your elderly parents. Someday you, like them, really won't have the skills, reaction time and perhaps, strong enough eyesight, to drive. How will you get to the grocery store to buy food for yourself? Who will take you to your doctor's appointments? How long will the waiting list be for the limited suburban senior housing facilities where you could get some help with transportation and meals and some built-in camaraderie? If you're 45 now and feeling the start of aches and pains, will you really be able to walk six blocks to catch a bus to the shopping mall? And how will all our governments operate if we future senior citizens simply can't afford the tax burden we're shouldering now after the Great Recession?

The questions are many. We need to start answering them now. The clock keeps on ticking.