Digging into how to make Portland more friendly to older residents

By Rolando Hernandez (OPB)
Oct. 4, 2023 1 p.m.

Three-quarters of adults over the age of 50 want to remain in their homes as they age, according to the AARP. But in many cities, including Portland, older residents may face physical and social challenges when wanting to age in place.

A draft report released this month by the Portland Bureau of Planning and Sustainability aims to identify ways to address some of these issues.

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The Age and Disability Inclusive Neighborhoods Action Plan is a roadmap advocating for a number of changes for the city, including boosting mobility, increasing access to public spaces, and incentivizing the development of accessible housing.

Alan DeLaTorre is an adjunct professor with Portland State University, the lead author of the new draft plan and the former project manager for the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability’s Age-Friendly City Program. He said it’s important to take into consideration different communities’ needs when talking about inclusion in city planning.

“If we’re looking out to, say 2045, and thinking about a housing production strategy, we’re actually thinking about planning for our future older adults, not just those today,” DeLaTorre said. ”It’s really important for us not to just think that interventions for age-friendly cities come once you turn 65.”

Portlanders wanting to age where they currently live could face a number of social and physical challenges in their future. A new plan from the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability has a few recommendations to address some of these issues.

Portlanders wanting to age where they currently live could face a number of social and physical challenges in their future. A new plan from the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability has a few recommendations to address some of these issues.

MacGregor Campbell / OPB

The plan recommends further investment in so-called age-friendly centers. These are high-density areas that are built up, not out, and are designed to be accessible to transit services, government offices, grocery stores or anything else someone might need to get to within 15 minutes without needing to make multiple trips in a car.

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DeLaTorre said good examples of these areas can be found in the Hollywood neighborhood and parts of downtown Portland. But in other parts of the city, existing infrastructure can present a challenge to navigate without the aid of a car.

“Further east you’ve got less developed infrastructure, less sidewalks … because of the way we annexed our city over time,” he said.

Amidst an epidemic of loneliness, DeLaTorre said he believes we can combat social isolation as the population ages by investing in more socially oriented housing structures, such as cottage clusters.

“There are opportunities for us to continue to connect with each other,” DeLaTorre said. “We need to figure out ways as a society, as a community to lean into each other in many ways.”

Thinking about issues around social cohesion, mobility and assistance through the lens of aging is no longer simply academic for DeLaTorre.

“I study these issues. I’ll even carry [them] over into my family and my personal life, trying to figure out how my parents and my immediate family may eventually live together in some way to share housing, to share a property where we are aging-in-community together,” he said.

Portland’s Bureau of Planning and Sustainability is currently finalizing the report and is considering implementing some recommendations in the report regarding land use and housing, DeLaTorre said.

Alan DeLaTorre joined OPB’s Think Out Loud to discuss the new plan. You can listen to the full conversation here:

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