"Aging in Place": Fight Age Discrimination in East Lansing!

Typical Sidewalks Throughout All East Lansing Neighborhoods

Another Example Related to Ice and Water build-up on Sidwalks

East Lansing discriminates against the elderly and physically challenged.

In distinct contrast to local government's stand on LGBT rights, ageism in East Lansing is both de facto and institutionalized.

It is well known that significant powers-that-be in East Lansing -- in both government and school system -- have viewed "empty-nesters" and others without children as "dead wood," and would like to encourage them to move from their homes to apartments or condos or somewhere retirees supposedly like to go, to make room for families with children. (One of the ironies of the Avondale Square debacle has been it was supposed to provide homes near schools for families with children but, last I heard, only one taxpayer subsidized home has been observed to have children.)

Whether an official policy or just in loud whispers in the corridors of power, calling those aging in place, "dead wood," is discrimination.

Aging in place is defined by the Centers of Disease Control as, "The ability to live in one's own home and community safely, independently, and comfortably, regardless of age, income, or ability level." According to the Wikipedia article, "Communities are now fully engaged and committed to exploring ways to better serve older adults by developing action plans that address future needs and ensure that the necessary services are in place when they are needed."

Unfortunately, East Lansing, with its "dead wood" attitude and desire to become a "cool city" (like Grand Rapids?) that attracts craft-beer guzzling "young professionals," is not one of these communities.

East Lansing does have a seniors program, which provides some activities but is a far cry from what must be done to facilitate aging in place -- there is plenty of expertise in the community on this, as well as initiatives elsewhere that can be drawn from. We have had excellent emergency services, but those are under threat from consolidation (like the failures of the consolidated 911 system the local press has failed to report) and from budget constraints, exacerbated by unfunded debt for big projects. We vote a millage in support of SPECTRAN, then the development enthusiasts pillage from it for their priorities.

Public safety is the key to aging in place, and East Lansing policies on important public safety issues are ageist. Yes, I am referring again to the city not fixing dangerous sidewalks -- "low hanging fruit" for budget cutting, according to Councilman Beard -- and its F-minus-minus response to the ubiquitous problem of icy sidewalks. These are serious issues for everyone -- watch a jogger with a stroller in the street because the sidewalks are too broken (not that the streets are much better) or children trying to learn to ride a bike or to skateboard, or listen to an high school athlete complaining about falling on the ice walking home from school.

Negotiating broken sidewalks with deteriorating eyesight and lessened stability and weakened limbs and bodies is very dangerous, and debilitating falls are one of the major risks of aging. Icy sidewalks are even worse than broken ones, and as I have said many times, the icy sidewalks problem is solvable with little cost, if city hall would show leadership, starting with our milquetoast mayor using the bully pulpit to get negligent homeowners to wake up to their responsibilities. Being unable to walk safely in neighborhoods for exercise or to walk a dog poses physical and mental health risks for the elderly. The attitude from city hall for the many years I have been trying to make this point has been, in effect, we don't give a damn.

East Lansing government has deliberately decided it would rather spend money pursuing pipe dreams about 30 or 50 years from now than on the needs of its aging citizens in the here and now, and it thinks nothing of raising taxes on fixed-income elderly to support excessive tax breaks for rich developers and the costs of failed development projects and debt-millage-avoided public works. That is discrimination, and no different than Rick Snyder's pro-business, it's all about the future, let the elderly eat dog-food, economic policies.

East Lansing needs to change. With boomers retiring, whatever the fantasies about young professionals as the future, the places that are going to succeed economically over the next 25-30 years are the ones that facilitate the demographic that has dominated the nation's consumer economy since Dr. Spock. Retirees are no longer looking to flee to Florida or Arizona -- Marquette is one of the top ten retirement locations in the country. University towns, with their vitality and activities are very attractive, and an MSU-affiliated retirement community is great idea to accommodate a relatively small number of active seniors.

But much more important, and involving far greater numbers, is actively facilitating aging in place. The start is for East Lansing government to reject, in no uncertain terms, its discriminatory "dead wood" attitude toward the elderly (which may mean firing or "deprogramming" certain unrepentant staff members and those on Council who would rather live in the glorious future than in the inglorious present). Then the citizenry needs to take the opportunity of the new comprehensive plan and government's new, supposed (if inconsistent), commitment to greater community involvement, to stress aging in place as a strategic and fiscal priority:

1) Make aging in place a core principle in the comprehensive plan, integrated across all its components;

2) Create a community based, government facilitated, task force, drawing on the professional expertise in the community and existing efforts (such as in Pinecrest and the work of the senior program), to develop and continue an aging in place action plan;

3) Make 2013 the year the city reverses the icy sidewalks problem with a multi-faceted approach (for which I have already drafted a strategic plan), with government providing necessary resources (not a large financial commitment) and Council showing leadership in rallying the community -- imagine Triplett setting an example by shoveling snow for a elder, instead of hanging out at a bar promoting himself on Facebook.

4) Refocus "economic sustainability" for the city on the reality of the next 5-10 years, not wishes for the distant future, with an emphasis on public services and fixing neighborhood infrastructure, which will have a far greater impact on property values and tax revenue than ambitious subsidized developments or discretionary public works that do not contribute to the tax base.

Whatever the nonsense was that started the "dead wood" appellation for permanent residents without school age children is long past. Many East Lansing homes are worth less after inflation than 30 years ago, with interest rates at about 1/3 what they were then. Even with an effective aging in place program, there will be ample turnover. And, an effective aging in place program would enhance neighborhoods for everyone, making them more attractive, including by providing the sense of community and grassroots involvement that used to make East Lansing special.

As to "young professionals," I'm sorry, but speaking as a real political progressive, I think Granholm's "cool cities" approach to economic development was almost as looney as the fatuous New Deal wannabe "cranes in the air" economics of her MEDC. Serious young professionals do not move to places to party like they were still in college. As I've already said, consumer economics for the next 25-30 years will be driven by the needs of an aging population, and it is in serving and enabling that population that young professionals will find work, be it in medicine or elder law or financial planning or new services geared to aging in place, and much of the technological innovation, even if initiated for youth, which tends to be first adopters, will involve user-friendly modifications and enhancements for elders.

The "dead wood" attitude, and the failure year after year to address public safety issues that affect elders even more than others, are discrimination. Putting an end to discrimination and making aging in place a showpiece for East Lansing will be good economics, restore our tarnished reputation, and help bring this community together.

Typical Sidewalks Throughout All East Lansing Neighborhoods

Another Example Related to Ice and Water build-up on Sidwalks

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