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Boomers and Urban Growth

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As Mayor De Blasio assumes his new office, he'd be wise to recognize the role of one of the city's critical constituencies: the aging population. It was just a couple of decades ago that many baby boomers made the critical life-decision to bet on the City, rather than flee to the suburbs. Now, some of these boomers -- who will soon total 1.5 million in the city -- are part of the group being vilified by the mayor for driving the "wealth gap" which he has dedicated his Mayoralty to make right.

These Boomers are the economic engine driving a thriving, safer New York City. A point Mayor de Blasio ought keep very much in mind as he rolls into his taxing mode. These are the people who chose to live and raise their families in the city back in the 80s and early 90s when New York's resurgence was a bet against all odds. Indeed, Myron Magnet put it best in the Manhattan Institute's City Journal, claiming that "fear was a New Yorker's constant companion."

How long ago those days seem now. But let's not forget, just a short time ago, we lived, as Magnet puts it, "behind doors with triple locks, some like engines of medieval ironmongery. Nearing our buildings we held our keys at the ready and looked over our shoulders, as police and street-smart lore advised."

The wealthier, who are also often the older New Yorkers, vilified in the de Blasio campaign do remember these days. Now that their lives are less tied to the city through work and family, they do have legs. Push too hard and these vital contributors may walk.

Mayor de Blasio ought to pay close attention to the policies and programs that have been at the center of New York's great achievements the past 20 years. Near the top this impressive list is the city's commitment to safety, which turned the daily medieval ironmongery on its head. Vitally important too is Bloomberg's commitment to the Age-friendly NYC program. Anticipating the emerging demographics of the city, this program was prescient and is stunning, and it was recognized as such when it recently received a global award at the International Federation on Ageing's International Istanbul Initiative on Ageing conference this past October.

The Age-friendly NYC initiative is especially interesting because it marries good social policy with pragmatic value-based economics. The concept itself was invented almost a decade ago inside the World Health Organization by the geriatrician Dr. Alex Kalache, now a Fellow at the New York Academy of Medicine (NYAM) where Age-friendly NYC is housed. Led by Dr. Ruth Finkelstein, the NYAM collaborated with the New York City Council and the Mayor's office to join the World Health Organization's Global Network of Age-friendly Cities and Communities, now being led by Dr. John Beard, Kalache's successor at the WHO, and construct one of the more innovative and forward-looking initiatives of the Bloomberg era. Cities globally are now looking to NYC as a model of how to connect age-friendliness with economic growth.

To make the next decade as successful as the last, balance is essential. This is the hallmark of an age-friendly NYC. It is not just a program for social services and health support, but a way to promote the idea that all of us can live active, healthy, productive lives into our eighties and beyond.

As Age-Friendly NYC puts it: "In just a few decades, New York will have more older adults than school-aged children. Through innovation and planning, we can meet the demands of population aging while making the city a better place for all New Yorkers. It makes sense that New York City should lead the way (globally) in meeting the needs of an aging world."

But, the Age Friendly NYC vision will not work if we become a city which make many of its baby boomers feel better off elsewhere. The trends we saw in 2013 are good guides for how you might think about this seminal challenge of our era. Creating good public policy that itself enables and promotes age-friendly markets.