Atlanta, like much of the rest of America, is showing its gray.
The tsunami of baby boomers currently moving through retirement is just the tip of the iceberg. Fewer births and greater longevity have forged a permanent shift toward an aging society, according to a national PBS documentary “Coming of Age in Aging America.”
Much of the documentary was shot in Atlanta, home to one of the fastest-growing senior populations in the country.
The city of Mableton is featured for its award-winning Lifelong Mableton smart growth project promoting active aging, and WellStar Health Systems is lauded for making changes to accommodate an aging workforce. Interviews were also conducted in Norcross.
The documentary, produced by Vital Pictures, will air on public television Friday, June 30, and Saturday, July 1.
The film probes the question of how society will adapt when half the population is eligible for an AARP membership. Its intent is to start a national conversation on how institutions can adapt to a graying society where people are living longer.
“In the Atlanta region and throughout the country, people are routinely living into their 80s. This gift of longevity is something that most of us desire, and yet communities are largely unprepared for this demographic shift,” said Becky Kurtz, manager of ARC Aging & Health Resources Division and director of the Atlanta Area Agency on Aging. “As a society, we need to make profound changes in how we invest in our communities.”
The Mableton initiative began in 2009 when the community received funding from the U.S. Administration on Aging as one of 14 national aging in place pilot projects. Working with ARC, plans were made to reshape the typical suburban sprawl of cul-de-sacs and big box stores and create a walkable town center where people could live throughout a lifetime. Planned mixed-use development with shopping, dining and other services would allow older adults to engage socially and not have to depend on transportation.
Film producers honed in on the redesign because five years ago, about the time of the filming, “the Mableton project was one of the hottest projects around. The timing was good,” Mayerik said.
Last year, Lifelong Mableton completed its Mableton Town Square, a community green space across from an elementary school. Changes have been made to a busy Floyd Road, and flexible zoning codes and a Mableton master plan continue to dictate redevelopment in the area, according to county planners.
The documentary also recognizes WellStar Health System. When designing WellStar Paulding Hospital, which opened in 2014, considerations were made for aging patients and an older workforce. Changes in institutions, including workplaces, are needed to account for longer life expectancy, according to the film’s producer Herbes-Sommers.
Filming also took place in Norcross, with interviews on caring for an aging loved one and conversations with students about longevity and its added responsibilities.
By 2030, one out of five residents in the 10-county metro area will be 60 or older. The ARC has a “Live Beyond Expectations Regional Strategic Plan” with goals for transportation, housing, caregiver support, senior centers, and behavior health services.
“ARC is committed to helping people stay in their homes and communities for as long as possible by preparing the Atlanta region to meet the future needs of this demographic,” said Kurtz.