Village Voices: Seniors

Ridgewood is known for being a “family town,” owing to a well-regarded school system located in a safe community. However, we’ve heard many people remark that the “For Sale” signs go up on front yards as soon as high school graduation is over.

While it’s become cliché, this statement does bear some truth. Some “empty-nest” parents do move away from the Village after their children graduate and go off to college, whether due to high costs of living, for a new job, to live in a more urban environment, to be closer to their grandchildren, or for some other reason.

photo by Mark Moz

But Ridgewood is not just a family town; it’s also a community of older adults living in a Village that provides, along with other organizations, supportive services to ensure active and healthy lives. If there’s a group in the Village that knows a lot about senior life in the Village, Age-Friendly Ridgewood is certainly one of them. We held a short focus group with Age-Friendly Ridgewood’s Executive Committee in early May to learn about the services available to Village seniors, discuss the challenges they face now and into the future, and envision the future of the Village for this population.

The group consisted of Village residents who are seniors in addition to representatives from organizations such as the senior housing providers Ridgecrest Housing and SHARE Independent Living for Active Seniors, the YMCA, Valley Hospital, and several Village of Ridgewood departments that serve seniors.

Like the other Village Voices segments posted on this website, we’ve summarized the discussion in terms of “Emerging Principles” that should be considered as Ridgewood plans for its future.

Emerging Principle:

  • Keep in mind that while there are a lot of families in Ridgewood, there are also many households consisting of one or two older adults without any children living with them.

One of the first comments from the group addressed the reputation of Ridgewood of being a “family town,” with the suggestion to examine the demographics of the Village, which will likely indicate that there are many households in the Village that do not have children in the school system. According to a report produced by Age-Friendly Ridgewood and New Jersey Future called Creating Places to Age: Land-Use Analysis of Aging-Friendliness, which can be downloaded from the Reports page of this website, approximately 25% of Ridgewood’s population consists of residents the age of 55 or older. Not everyone who has had children moves away from the Village after their children graduate high school. Furthermore, Ridgewood also might attract adults who move to the Village later in life because of the services and lifestyle offered by the Village other organizations that operate in the Village.

Emerging Principle:

  • Recognize that seniors are not a uniform group; their characteristics, needs, and desires vary based on many factors.
Ridgecrest-1600x1071 by HABCNJ
Ridgecrest Senior Housing (photo by Housing Authority of Bergen County)

Older adults represent at least four decades, from “active adults” in their late 50s to seniors in their 60s, 70s, 80s, and even 90s. Within this time span, the characteristics, needs, and desires of older adults can vary considerably based on factors such as age, income, health, mobility, and level of independence. Ridgewood offers several housing options within this continuum, such as Ridgecrest and SHARE, which provide affordable independent living options to lower-income seniors. Other types of facilities such as nursing homes and assisted-living facilities are more intensive and medical in nature because they accommodate seniors with serious health problems. While these types of facilities are not currently located in Ridgewood, they do exist elsewhere in Bergen County.

With regards to programming and other services for seniors, the Village offers HILT (Highlights in Leisure Time), a group that provides residents age 55 and older with social and entertainment programs. The Village also provides a bus service, the Ridgewood Senior Bus, that provides seniors with transportation to local and regional destinations.

One participant who does not live in Ridgewood urged Village residents to be thankful for all the offerings available in Ridgewood (which includes the library, a downtown, etc.) because many communities do not have as rich a collection of offerings and amenities as Ridgewood.

Emerging Principles:

  • Create affordable options for seniors to be able to remain in the Village. Introduce new residential building types.

Options for older adults to downsize in Ridgewood are limited. Ridgewood’s residential stock is, for the most part, large and expensive. According to the report mentioned earlier, 80% of the Village’s housing stock consists of detached single-family houses, with the median number of rooms in houses being eight. Furthermore, 91% of the houses were constructed before 1980 and the majority of them were not designed to be barrier free and are unable to accommodate people with limited mobility. And the median home value in Ridgewood, according to Zillow, is $712,000. The new apartment buildings being constructed in downtown might provide living options for highly-mobile senior individuals and couples who have the means to afford the rents that the new units will likely command. But for many other seniors, these new dwellings are not an option.

Several participants mentioned the need to introduce new, smaller residential building types into the Village such as townhomes and accessory dwelling units, which might offer more affordable price points. Accessory dwelling units (ADUs) are a type of residential option that can be accommodated most readily in a community that is essentially built out. An ADU is a smaller dwelling located on same lot as a stand-alone single-family home. It can be integrated into the structure of the existing house or it can be a separate building on the same lot as the existing house. The term “granny flats” is sometimes used for this type of home because it can be a way for families to accommodate aging parents.

Emerging Principle:

  • Plan for the needs of current residents, but also understand and address the needs and preferences of newer residents.

No community is static. People move in and people move out, and even residents who stay in one place are not static; their needs and wishes change as they age and undergo life transitions. The visioning process for the Village asks people to think about and plan for the future of the Village in 5, 10, 20 years. While it’s impossible to predict precisely who will be living in the Village in the future, it is important to get a sense of how the population of Ridgewood has been changing and also to examine trends that might impact the way people live and move through a community. One participant noted, for example, that new families that have been moving to Ridgewood tend to come from more urban communities closer to New York City and seem to walk more frequently through the Village to get from place to place and for pleasure. They also tend to use ride-hailing services such as Uber and Lyft. Through the Visioning Questionnaire we will be able to capture how newer residents (and all other residents, regardless of how long they have been living in Ridgewood) envision the future of the Village.

Emerging Principle:

  • Try new ways of doing things, especially in Downtown.

IMG_5488A participant remarked that Ridgewood tends to play it safe. It should try different or new ways of doing things. Downtown might be the place where implementing new ideas or concepts could generate and attract more activity. One example put forward was to test the conversion of a block of a street to pedestrians-only. (The concept of creating a safe and comfortable environment for pedestrians was also introduced during the Downtown Roundtable discussions held earlier this year. See Village Voices: Downtown Dialogues). Given the pace at which the retail world and consumer behavior has changed and will continue to evolve, the Village might do well to try different or new ways of doing things in Downtown.

Do you have any comments on what you’ve just read or any additional “emerging principles” or ideas related to the topics raised in this Village Voices segment that you’d like to share? Write to us through the Contact page of this website or in the comment form below.

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